Michael Privitera MD talks about triggers of seizures. Visit TalkAboutIt.org to watch more celebrity and expert interviews.

Knowing what triggers your seizures can help you recognize when one may be coming and help you be prepared to lessen the chance that one may occur the next time you face a similar trigger.

Some people may find that seizures occur in a pattern or are more likely to occur in certain situations. Sometimes these connections are just by chance, but other times it’s not. Keeping track of any factors that may precipitate a seizure (also called seizure triggers) can help you recognize when a seizure may be coming. You can then be prepared and learn how to lessen the chance that a seizure may occur at this time.

Some people will notice one or two triggers very easily, for example their seizures may occur only during sleep or when waking up. Other people may notice that some triggers bother them only when a lot is going on at once or it is during a 'high risk' time for them (for example when under a lot of stress or when sick).

What are some commonly reported triggers?

What is reflex epilepsy? Is this related to triggers?

Epilepsy triggers

Some people may notice that their seizures occur in response to very specific stimuli or situations, as if the seizure is a 'reflex'. There is a type of epilepsy called 'reflex epilepsy' – in this type, seizures occur consistently in relation to a specific trigger.

  • For example, one type of reflex epilepsy is photosensitive epilepsy where seizures are triggered specifically by flashing lights.
  • Other types of reflex epilepsies may be seizures triggered by the act of reading or by noises.
  • These reflex epilepsies are not common, but knowing if you have this form of epilepsy will help you learn how to manage them!

How can I tell if something is a trigger?

Great question and a common one too! Sometimes people think just because a situation happened once or twice, it’s a trigger to all their seizures. It’s important to realize that a trigger is something that occurs fairly consistently before seizures and more often than by chance. To identify triggers, try a few of these strategies:

  • Whenever you have a seizure, note what time of day it occurs, special situations surrounding it, or how you felt. Note if any of the commonly reported triggers were present.
  • Write these in your seizure diary. Do this consistently, for each seizure.
  • If you notice that a situation or event is happening pretty consistently before seizures, now you need to know if it also happens at other times.
    • For example, you note that you were sleep deprived before 2 out of 3 seizures in the past 3 months. But when you look at your sleep patterns, you didn’t have seizures all the other times you were sleep deprived. And you don’t sleep well most of the time. In this situation, sleep deprivation isn’t good for you, but probably doesn’t trigger seizures all by itself. You still need to work on improving your sleep, but there may be other things going on too.
    • Track a suspected trigger in your diary. Note whenever it happens and not just when you have a seizure. Then you can see how often it happens with seizures as compared to other times.
  • If you have a form of reflex epilepsy, talk to your doctor about the trigger. Knowing the type of epilepsy and trigger can help you build in ways to avoid the triggers whenever possible or find ways to lessen their effect on you.
Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN | Joseph I. Sirven, MD on 8/2013
Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 3/2014
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People with frequent seizures, especially generalized tonic-clonic seizures, are at greater risk for sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Knowing your seizure triggers and taking steps to manage them can help. Learn more about SUDEP.

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