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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.

This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated May 2020
    To be reviewed May 2023

Comments: read the 13 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi my partner has recently been diagnosed with epilepsy and has been prescribed Epilim. His dose was 300mg a day and is about to increase to 500 mg. Since taking it regularly he has not had a seizure . His seizures were the grand mal type and his triggers were lack of sleep and after a night of drinking for a celebration. My fear is that he will have a seizure whilst out on his own, what is the likelihood of this happening ? It is really stressing me out. We do not drink anymore and make sure he eats regularly.

Submitted by Heather Ratcliff

Hi there,
500mg Epilim is good (I WAS on 1200mg Epilim but switched to Lamotrigine which was better for ME & my brain condition; DVA + Cavernous Angioma haematoma) & sounds good that yr doctor is currently increasing his dosage.
I know what it is like to worry about yr partner or loved one. MY father has early dementia & I've just discovered that he has NOT been taking his meds for 3 months and refuses to adhere to prescription. GRRRR!
Anyway...
....all you can do is a) MAKE SURE HE TAKES HIS MEDICATION! b) REALLY TRY TO MAKE HIM NOT DRINK ALCOHOL OR EDUCATE HIM ABOUT THE FATAL RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ALCOHOL INDUCED EPILEPSY!!! I had to learn this and nearly died!
!!!perhaps have him prescribed Naltexone to help with alcoholic cravings? but remember that if he drinks whilst taking this medication it COULD make epilepsy worse....
c) *I've said this before--i 100% BELIEVE IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT SEIZURE SUFFERERS CARRY DIAZEPAM OR OXAZEPAM ON THEM 24/7 FOR IMMEDIATE RELIEF OF BAD SEIZURES. this can be given after a grand mal seizure (bkoz the risk of another seizure occuring soon after the first is high& you want to prevent brain damage caused). Oxazepam dissolves VERY QUICKLY so easily digested.
I don't know of the LEGALITIES regarding I.V diazepam-i think it's only administered by emergency staff BUT IF it's possible to get this way from yr doctor for emergency treatment, then that is the best treatment.
Get him a mediAlert bracelet & maybe a siren thing that sounds to alert people nearby of emergency.
YOU can always "track" him too if you're REALLY worried! haha!
Goodluck

Submitted by Lily

Hi, my daughter is 31 and has had epilepsy since age 4 she was put on epilim then taken off after 4 years fir free. At age 12 she started having fits again following a near drowning experience in Portugal and was put on tegretol and stayed fit free until her 18th birthday (forgot to take meds). At 28 she became a mom. She had no fits during pregnancy and stayed on tegretol 800 mg. when baby was 3 months she thinks she had a fit but gp ruled this out. When baby was 18 months she had a fit and neurologist added 100 mg of lamotrigine and sent for eeg. Nothing different showed on eeg and she went fit free for 18 months. Since dec18 she has had 4 fits the last one yesterday 19/5/2019 after her lamotrigine had been increased to 150mg. Blood tests showed nothing abnormal and she has now been told there is nothing more that can be done. She does not get any warnings before the fits although until the pregnancy she always did. Have you any advice please, as a mother I’m at my wits end and dread it when I see hers or her husbands name come up on my phone.

Submitted by Annette Hadley

Thank you for your comment. This sounds like a very worrying and difficult time for your family.

As your daughter is still having seizures, if the local neurologist isn’t able to take her treatment further, ideally they should refer her to an epilepsy specialist or epilepsy centre. It’s not unusual for someone to have to try a few different epilepsy medicines before they find the right one. An epilepsy specialist can review her treatment and look at other possible reasons for why her seizures are still happening. They may suggest trying a different epilepsy medicine.  If epilepsy medicine doesn’t work, it may be the specialist could look into other treatment options for her.

If you or your daughter contacts the helpline we can look at what epilepsy service are available in her local NHS. You can phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Thursday 8.30am until 8.00pm, Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm

In the meantime, you may find our information on safety, tips for looking after children and daily living aids helpful.

Regards,
Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane - Epileps...

Thank you so much for this information her neurologist has been in touch and increasing meds to 300 mg and will see her on 22nd July if we are not satisfied with the outcome I will phone your helpline. It’s good to know there are other options thank you.

Submitted by Annette Hadley

Hi, my daughter has seen an epilepsy nurse after having another seizure since the increase in her meds from July. As she is wanting to have another baby in about 12 months the nurse has suggested coming off the tegretol and increasing the lamotrigine as this is the safer option for the unborn child. She still has one more increase of lamotrigine until she is at the required dose (200ml) and had a seizure last Thursday whilst at an exercise class. She had had a very stressful day and getting up early with her 3 year old but some of her friends are saying that maybe she shouldn’t be doing the exercise class. We are still waiting to hear from the epilepsy nurse but wondered whether she should carry on with the exercise classes as she feels they are good for her. Your advice would be appreciated
Annette

Submitted by Annette Hadley

Hi Annette

For most people with epilepsy there’s no need to avoid exercise, and in fact some people say they have less seizures when they keep active. A very small number of people find that strenuous exercise is a trigger for their seizures. But if this was the first time your daughter has had a seizure during exercise it could just be a coincidence that it happened at that time. Or it could have been linked to the other things you’ve mentioned, such as the fact she’d had a stressful day and an early start. Hopefully once she reaches the required dose of her lamotrigine her seizures will be fully controlled.

If your daughter enjoys the exercise class and feels it’s good for her, then there should be no need for her to stop going because of the recent seizure. But to be safe she may wish to make sure she has a friend with her who knows what to do in case she does have another seizure. Or she could share our first aid information with the class instructor so they know what to do.

Regards

Grace

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich

Can you respond to people who do not live in the UK?
This is to test if this gets through to you

Submitted by angie

Hi Angie,

Yes we can, though we are of course UK-based, we can try signpost you to information more relevant to your location if necessary. Let us know if you'd like to ask anything.

Regards,

Josh - Epilepsy Action

Submitted by Josh - Epilepsy...

My partner has been having Seizures since August,
but we just realised they might have started a while ago and he thought it was migraine attack. This has really affected his life as he can't drive anymore, and he says he only feels safe whe he is in bed. He is scared to go out by himself, but it seems like the doctors are taking long to help him, and it's getting very worrying. He now has Seizures atleast twice a week, Wednesday and Thursdays, it used to be every Sunday, gran mal. How long does it take for someone to get the right medication. He did all tests, but they are taking long to help him. It's been 2 months now.

Submitted by Kay

Dear Kay

It’s understandable that you both feel worried and frustrated. Getting a diagnosis and finding the right treatment can take a while so it feels like you can’t move on as quickly as you would like.

Many people with newly diagnosed epilepsy respond well to epilepsy medicine and have fewer seizures. It’s not possible to say how long this will take. But for many people it happens quickly but for some it may take a while. Here is a link to our general information on treatment for epilepsy.

The fear of seizures happening and possible injuries are a worry for people whilst their seizures are not controlled. So there are various safety measures you both could look into. You may find our information safety in the home and daily living aids helpful.

Also, do you think it may help your partner to talk to others with epilepsy? From our experience, in most case people find it helpful to talk to or contact people who understand what they are experiencing. If you think this could help, he may find some of our services helpful. Such as our local groups, our forum4e online community, Facebook and twitter.

We also have a membership scheme, which keeps people up to date with information through our magazine Epilepsy Today.

Finally, you or your partner could always talk to one of us, Advice and Information Officers, on the Epilepsy Helpline (freephone) 0808 800 5050. Callers to the Helpline are guaranteed a friendly welcome and can discuss their concerns confidentially. Our helpline is usually open Monday to Thursday 8.30am until 8.00pm, Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich

My husband is 72 and had his first seizure a week before Christmas. He has had a further four seizures, the last one for weeks ago today when he was started on Levetiracetam, now taking 500mg twice daily. He hasn’t felt “right” today and this afternoon had what I assume was an “absence” when he stumbled, didn’t fall or lose consciousness, but lost his memory for a short time. He has had a nasty head cold over the last few days and has taken Lemsip for the symptoms. Could this have affected his medication as he has been a month since his last seizure until today. He hasn’t had much sleep due to his cold, which I suppose also could have been a trigger.

Submitted by Diane

Hi Diane

Thanks for your message. I hope your husband is starting to feel better. Stumbling and loss of memory could be a sign that he’s had a type of seizure.

As far as we’re aware, Lemsip should not affect how well levetiracetam works. However if your husband is concerned he could speak to his GP or pharmacist for advice. Lack of sleep is a common seizure trigger, so if he’s not been getting much sleep it’s quite possible this could have affected his seizure control. But if he continues to have seizures it would be a good idea to discuss this with the doctor treating his epilepsy. They may suggest adjusting his medicine to help.

If we can be of any further help, please feel free to contact the Epilepsy Action Helpline on 0808 800 5050.

Grace

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team   

Submitted by Grace - Epileps...

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