Epilepsy

Triggers for epilepsy

Most seizures happen completely out of the blue. For some people, though, seizures are triggered by certain things. These often differ from one person to another, and many of the people we interviewed noted that more than one factor was involved in setting off their seizures. Many people said that stress, anxiety or excitement triggered their seizures. Tiredness and lack of sleep were also common triggers. Some people discussed having seizures because of late nights or going without sleep. One man explained that lack of rest and shift work particularly affected him.

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Some people reported that seizures were more likely to occur if they were ill or unwell. Several women also mentioned hormonal changes. Epilepsy can start or go away at any time of hormonal change. Some women reported that seizures were often likely to occur around the time of their period. One also said she was more prone to seizures when relaxed or bored rather than busy.

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Lack of food triggered seizures in some people. Others explained that excessive alcohol was likely to bring on a seizure. Some anti-epileptic drugs interact with alcohol, so alcohol should be avoided with these drugs. For other drugs, drinking alcohol in moderation will not usually cause problems. Recreational drugs, such as amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, can increase the frequency of seizures in people with and without epilepsy.

Photosensitivity (sensitivity to flickering light) affects only a small number of people with epilepsy. Those we interviewed found that watching television, cinema films or using a computer often triggered their seizures. One woman explained that some types of lighting affected her. Like several other people we spoke to, she also noted how her moods and emotions affected seizures.

Certain types of sound and music triggered seizures in some people. Several noted that, although particular things triggered seizures, there was still a lot of uncertainty about when seizures would occur.

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Some people mentioned seasonal changes. One man recalled having more seizures in the winter months than in the summer, and explained how anxiety can set off seizures.

Different factors affect people in different ways. For some, heat was a trigger. A few people said that physical exertion, such as sports, brought on seizures. One man also noted that certain food additives affected him. Others mentioned that seizures were sometimes triggered by certain smells.

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Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.

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