Seizure triggers

Some things make seizures more likely for some people with epilepsy. These are often called ‘triggers’. Triggers don’t cause epilepsy, but they make seizures more likely.

Not all people with epilepsy have seizure triggers. And the things that trigger one person’s seizures might not affect other people with epilepsy in the same way.

Here are some of the seizure triggers that have been reported by people with epilepsy:  

Not taking epilepsy medicine as prescribed

Taking epilepsy medicines regularly, as prescribed by the doctor, will help to keep a steady level of the medicine in your blood. Several studies have shown that missing a dose of your epilepsy medicine increases the risk of you having a seizure.

Feeling tired and not sleeping well

Many people with epilepsy say that feeling tired or not sleeping well can trigger seizures.

Epilepsy Action has more information about sleep.

Stress

It’s not known exactly why stress might trigger seizures. But many people with epilepsy say that if they are feeling stressed, they are more likely to have a seizure. For some people, feeling stressed can lead to other things, such as changing sleeping or eating habits, drinking more alcohol, and feeling anxious or depressed. All of these can also increase your risk of having a seizure.  

Epilepsy Action has more information about stress.

Alcohol and recreational drugs

Some people with epilepsy drink alcohol and some people don’t. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to drink alcohol. But if you decide to drink alcohol, bear in mind that alcohol can make seizures more likely.

Drinking more than modest amounts of alcohol in 24 hours can increase the risk of having seizures. After heavy drinking, the risk is highest when the alcohol is leaving your body. This risk is usually between 6 and 48 hours after you’ve stopped drinking.

Epilepsy Action has more information about alcohol.

Recreational drugs include illegal drugs and ‘legal highs’. There is no control over what goes into these drugs. They can be dangerous and they can trigger seizures.

Flashing or flickering lights

Around 3 in 100 people with epilepsy have seizures that are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or some patterns. This is called photosensitive epilepsy. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, both natural and artificial light may trigger seizures. Some patterns, like stripes or checks, can also trigger seizures for some people with photosensitive epilepsy. You would usually have a seizure when you are looking at the trigger, or shortly after.

Epilepsy Action has more information about photosensitive epilepsy.

Monthly periods

Some women with epilepsy find that they are more likely to have seizures at certain times of their menstrual cycle (periods).

Epilepsy Action has more information about seizures and the menstrual cycle.

Missing meals

Some people with epilepsy say that if they skip meals, they are more likely to have a seizure.

Having an illness which causes a high temperature

Some people say that they are more likely to have seizures when they have an illness, such as an infection that causes a high temperature.

What can I do to avoid my seizure triggers? 

There are some things you can do to avoid your seizure triggers. These include:

  • Remembering to always take your epilepsy medicine
  • Having a good sleep routine  
  • Trying to reduce your stress
  • Limiting how much alcohol you drink  
  • Avoiding flashing or flickering lights (if you have photosensitive epilepsy)
  • Talking to your doctor if your seizures follow a pattern connected to your menstrual cycle
  • Eating regular meals

 Epilepsy Action’s booklet and web pages about epilepsy and wellbeing have more detailed information about lifestyle changes which could reduce your risk of seizures.

How can I recognise my triggers?

Keeping a seizure diary is a good way to try and find out what might trigger your seizures. Every time you have a seizure, record it and make a note of what you were doing and how you were feeling. If you do this over time, you might see a pattern emerging.

Epilepsy Action has more information about keeping a seizure diary.

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.

Code: 
F095.05

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Wendy Burton, Epilepsy Nurse Specialist, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust UK, for reviewing some possible seizure triggers .

Wendy Burton has no conflict of interest.

  • Updated May 2020
    To be reviewed May 2023

Comments: read the 2 comments or add yours

Comments

My little sister has seizures. She's four. She had a really big one not too long ago, so we took her to the hospital. The doctor said that she's been having them...We were all confused because we've never "seen" her have one. The doctor said they could be little. Like if she stops talking or fidgets with her hands, or bites her lip; things like that. I just want to know if there is a way to know for sure when she's about to have one.

Submitted by Anaple
Hi
It is a very difficult time living with the uncertainty of your sister having further seizures.  It's defiantly not easy, but with time many people find their own way of coping.

For most people with epilepsy there is not a trigger or a warning for seizures to happen. So it's not always possible to see if a seizure is about to happen.
To help you and your family understand your sister epilepsy you may find the following webpages helpful:
 
There are different types of seizures, so it would be helpful for your family to ask the consultant what type of epilepsy your sister has. This will help you all to learn and understand her epilepsy better. 
 
If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again. You can do this directly, either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Tuesday 8.30am until 7.00pm, Wednesday to Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm.
Regards
Diane

Submitted by Diane - Epileps...

Subscribe to the e-action newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest news on coronavirus, epilepsy news and events, and how you can get involved.

Epilepsy Action will never swap, share or sell your details. For more information, read our privacy policy.
By clicking subscribe you agree to our privacy policy.