Some things make seizures more likely for some people with epilepsy. These are often called ‘triggers’. Triggers do not cause epilepsy itself, but they are things that make it more likely that you will have a seizure.
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 are commonly reported by people with epilepsy:
- Not taking epilepsy medicine as prescribed
- Feeling tired
- Not getting enough sleep
- Flashing or flickering lights
- Menstruation (periods)
- Missing meals
Taking your epilepsy medicines regularly, as prescribed by your doctor, will help to keep a steady level of the medicine in your blood. Several studies have shown that if you miss a dose of your epilepsy medicines, the risk that you will have a seizure increases.
Feeling tired and not get enough sleep are two of the most common things that people with epilepsy say trigger their seizures.
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 behaviour, such as changing their sleeping or eating habits, drinking more alcohol, and feeling anxious or depressed. All of these can also increase the risk of having a seizure.
Epilepsy Action has more information about stress.
Several studies show that drinking small or modest amounts of alcohol does not increase the risk of having seizures. But if you have a history of alcohol abuse, even drinking small amounts could increase the number of seizures you have. This is also the case if you have had seizures related to drinking alcohol in the past.
Drinking more than modest amounts of alcohol in 24 hours can increase the risk of having seizures. For most people, the risk is highest when the alcohol is leaving their body after they have had a drink. This risk is highest between six and 48 hours after they have stopped drinking.
Epilepsy Action has more information about alcohol.
Around three in 100 people with epilepsy have seizures which are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or some patterns. This is called photosensitive epilepsy.
For people with 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. The seizure(s) will usually happen at the time of, or shortly after, looking at the trigger.
Epilepsy Action has more information about photosensitive epilepsy.
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.
Some people with epilepsy say that if they skip meals, they are more likely to have a seizure.
What can I do to avoid my seizure triggers?
It’s a personal choice, but you might want to consider making some lifestyle changes. 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.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Lesley McCoy, Epilepsy Nurse Specialist, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, UK, for reviewing Epilepsy and travel abroad.
Lesley McCoy has no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated March 2014To be reviewed March 2017