Stress and Seizures


        I had a seizure a month ago. I was on a 12 hour work shift when this seizure occurred. Are seizures triggered by a lack of rest? Can stress, such as a 12 hour work shift (with a short lunch break) cause a seizure? Has anyone here experienced this?



Re: Stress and Seizures

Stress and sleep deprivation are definitely triggers. Major triggers for a lot of us!

I'm guessing the 12 hour day work is new to you, otherwise you probably wouldn't be having this problem...

Take care and hope this helps.

Re: Stress and Seizures

Sleep deprivation and stress are common cause of seizure triggers.  It's imperative to have enough sleep and to limit your stress level in order to keep yourself from having more seizures.  A 12 hour work shift is too long.  With our horrible economy, sometimes these are the only jobs we can get.  Please change jobs as soon as possible for your safety!

Re: Stress and Seizures

Stress and lack of sleep are the biggies when it comes to seizures triggers:

Stress can trigger hyperventilation which can provoke seizures, especially absence seizures. It can increase cortisol, known as “the stress hormone” because cortisol is secreted in higher levels during the body’s “fight or flight” response to stress. And it’s responsible for several stress-related changes in the body which also may influence seizure activity.

Negative emotions related to stress, such as anger, worry or fright, may also cause seizures. This happens because the limbic system, the portion of the brain that regulates emotion, is one of the most common places for seizures to begin. You’ll probably find that you have more seizures during or after periods of anxiety or stress.

Lack of Sleep / Inadequate or fragmented sleep can set off seizures in lots of people. In one study, the lowest risk for seizures was during REM sleep (when dreams occur). The highest risk was during light non-REM stages of sleep.

Other seizure triggers are:

Flickering or Flashing Light...if you have photosensitive epilepsy, certain types of flickering or flashing light may incite a seizure. The trigger could be exposure to television screens due to the flicker or rolling images, computer monitors, certain video games or TV broadcasts containing rapid flashes, even alternating patterns of different colors, in addition to intense strobe lights.

And surprisingly, seizures may even be triggered by natural light, such as sunlight, especially when shimmering off water, even sun flickering through trees or through the slats of Venetian blinds.

Hormones -- for many women, certain hormones seem to trigger seizures at particular times in their menstrual cycle. It can be during ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy or menopause. This is known as “catamenial epilepsy.” If you’re going through menopause, you may find that the hormonal changes at this time make you more likely to have seizures, (although for some women, seizures will not be affected or become less frequent).

Food Allergies -- both food sensitivities and allergies can definitely trigger seizures. Especially foods that are rich in glutamate and aspartame – two very excitatory amino acids. Food allergies may also trigger seizures in children who also have migraine headaches, hyperactive behavior and abdominal pains.

Illness - high fevers in children can commonly incite a seizure. Vomiting, diarrhea, and fever are all triggers. And vomiting may reduce the dosage level of previously ingested anti-seizure medication. As for adults, they usually weather illness fine but it can reduce the seizure threshold, and make you more likely to have a seizure.

Prescription Drugs -- some prescription medications — especially penicillin, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs — can prevent your medication from working. It could be caused by the way your system responds to a certain a drug, a combination of drugs, reaction or withdrawal. Make sure all your doctors know everything you take.

Over-the-Counter-Drugs -- certain over-the-counter medications (Advil and Tylenol are fine but never take aspirin!) can make you more likely to have a seizure, if you have epilepsy or a history of seizures. For example, anti-depressants and antihistamines are possible seizure triggers. Also certain supplements — like evening primrose oil — can also be a trigger.

Alcohol -- there are two questions that have to be considered when the question of alcohol use and epilepsy comes up. One is the effect that alcohol could have on the medicines used to control seizures. Alcohol can be dangerous when mixed with sedative drugs and can cause coma, or even death. The other question is whether the alcohol itself will cause seizures.

Large amounts of alcohol are thought to raise the risk of seizures and may even cause them. When you drink alcohol, it may temporarily reduce seizures for a few hours, but then increases the chances of a seizure as the alcohol leaves your body.

Cigarette Smoking -- nicotine is both a stimulant and a depressant to the central nervous system. The nicotine in cigarettes acts on receptors for the excitatory neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain, which increases neuronal firing.

But if you want to STOP smoking, here’s a piece of scary information: some nicotine preparations used to help people stop smoking can have a side effect of convulsions. So, if you’re thinking of quitting, check out your smoking cessation program with your doc first.

Caffeine -- Much like nicotine, caffeine stimulates the nervous system. Adrenaline is released and the liver begins to emit stored blood sugar. Insulin is then released, and blood sugar drops below normal— a common seizure trigger. And caffeine can be a “stealth” drug, too. It can be found as an ingredient in medications, including some antihistamines and decongestants.

Musicogenic Epilepsy -- this is a form of reflexive epilepsy in which a seizure is triggered by music or specific frequencies. Sensitivity to music varies from person to person. Some people are sensitive to a particular tone from a voice or instrument. Others are sensitive to a particular musical style or rhythm. Still others are sensitive to a range of noises.

Individual Triggers -- a common trigger is too much heat, internal from extremely excessive exercise or external from an overheated house or apartment. Other triggers include the smell of glue and the color yellow! Many people have their own specific triggers, while others don’t. It’s a combination of possibilities: personal chemistry, biology and genetics.

This may be over kill, but I hope it helps!

Phylis Feiner Johnson

Re: Stress and Seizures

Hi Gina22,

Sorry for the late response, but I've been drowned in spam attacks with my e-mail.

I have many daily simple partial seizures that are usually restricted to visceral feelings (aura) with no involuntary physical movements, though the seizures frequently interfere with my speech. I generally ignore the visceral feelings as much as possible, but observers label or interpret my "non-action" as my having "flat affect" and near zero "motivation". Being told that I don't verbally respond because of my lack of motivation led me to reject the concept of "motivation" as a useful scientfic concept, much as Skinnerian Behaviourism rejects the concept.

I also have about monthly clusters of seizures that now secondarily generalize into tonic-clonic seizures without Anti-Epileptic Drugs (AEDs). The simple partial seizures in the clusters are different, but still often classifiable as just aura, and they usually give me plenty of warning to take a stronger dose of Keppra that stops the secondarily generalizations into tonic-clonics. The definition of complex partial seizures involves the degree of "consciousness", which doesn't have a scientific definition, nor is subject to objective and valid measurement (some definitions involve it as "being able to engage in verbal behaviour, with memory", while many people are undoubtedly fully conscious and not open to all engagements in verbal behaviour).

My warning aura for clusters generally occur just as I start to go to sleep, and I can usually (less frequently now, than decades ago) forestall the clusters from continuing as long as I can stay awake. Lack of sleep, and boredom, aggravate my migraines, but not the frequency of my seizures. My clusters overlapping with the flu/colds and many medicines will make my cluster seizures more severe, but not noticeably more frequent.

The ILAE distinguishes reflex seizures by these seizures having "specific modes of seizure precipitation" (more like a "trigger") than non-reflex seizures that at most may have "Certain nonspecific factors (e.g., sleeplessness, etc.) as common non-specific precipitators" (more like lowered thresholds that increase the chances of seizures occurring, but not per se directly causing the seizures):

Since I was once told that the "stress" of going to sleep caused my seizures, I don't think the word "stress" has a precise scientific meaning in the schools of psychiatry/psychology/neurology (stress has a precise scientific definition in physics/mechanics, but not in the soft sciences). I tried to find a good, valid, and objective psych definition of "stress" in books like "Handbook of Stress" by Goldberger & Breznitz (1993), with 80 search results for the definition of "stress" and/or "emotional stress", with only vague and controversial explanations:'s&hl=en&ei=3u2vTc3EN5S4sQOK9d3iCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=snippet&q=Seyle's%20focus&f=false

The book tries to make the claim that "fuzzy" definitions are more useful than the precise and concise definitions of concepts used in the hard sciences. Next, they'll recommend an Ouija Board over an expensive CAT-Scan.

A State Rehabilitation counselor told me that my epilepsy precluded stressful jobs, like being a high-paid CPA, but not low-paid jobs like handling deadly chemicals. For some reason, "stress" was the rate of pay, but not the degree of danger. The word "stress" as used in psychology means everything and nothing.

Generally, for individuals with epilepsy, a lack of rest, overly long work shifts, quick and insufficient lunches, can lower seizure thresholds, and make seizures of epilepsy more likely. Physically exhausting long work schedules with too few available calories can also induce hypoglycemia, which can imitate many characteristics of epileptic seizures. I can induce hypoglycemia through "reactive hypoglycemia" testing techniques, and while a simple blood-sugar test reveals a current state of hypoglycemia, many doctors can't tell the difference amongst that (without the test), nor between, my having partial seizures and my having a painless migraine.


Re: Stress and Seizures

I am 35 and was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 5 years I happen to know a few things about it from my experience, not only from text books or Dr's visits. 

The key here is understanding and defining exactly what stress is.  You have to realize stress is not limited to having a bad day, kids acting up, or lack of sleep for example.  Most people think of stress as only being negative. 

"Stress" has been the only element I have been able to consistantly identify as a triger for my seizures.  What I have come to realize is, it is just as STIMULATING/ stressfull to win $9 million in the lottery as it is to loose your job.  We potentially incurr stress from everything we do, see, feel, or hear in our environment as well as basic health issues such as diet, exersize, and the social environment we subject our minds and bodies to.

Its a matter of associating environmental stimulation (positive or negative) to the seizure threshold of you as an individual.  This threshold can be variable throughout the lifetime of any epileptic, which is to say, it may change over time, not only the threshold but the type and frequency of episodes.  Its not as easy as adding 1+1= 2 because its subjective and can vary over time.  This would explain why medical professionals are not able to consistantly control the seizures of more than ~30% of individuals with seizure disorder or epilepsy.

 MORAL OF THE STORY....don't limit your thinking of stress to the idea of having a bad day......a lottery win can cause your mind and body just as much "stress" or stimulation as loosing a loved one. Naturally, sleep deprivation is a major source of stress (negative stress) and in my experience, as committed as I am to being a respected professional, a negative job environment (over worked, under paid or negative co-workers) can have just as much influence on your seizure threshold/ stress level as sleep deprivation.

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