Our Helpline & Information Officer, Uschi Stickroth looks at 12 common seizure triggers and how you can help control them.
The unpredictability of seizures can make people with epilepsy sometimes feel powerless and out of control.
However, identifying potential triggers for seizures can be the first step towards better seizure control.
Below are 12 common seizure triggers, which will give you the knowledge and power to work on these triggers, and hopefully regaining a sense of control.
The most common reason for a seizure is forgetting to take your anti-epileptic drugs (AED) or deliberately not taking it.
Never skip taking your medication, no matter what the reason is, this can put you at risk of having a seizure which can be worse than normal.
Even forgetting just once can trigger a seizure.
Get into a routine to make sure you take your medication exactly as prescribed.
Moderate drinking (one to two units a day) is usually fine.
Many doctors, however, advise not to drink alcohol when on anti-epileptic drugs because alcohol can sometimes make these less effective.
Avoid binge drinking as this can trigger a seizure, even in those who do not have a diagnosis of epilepsy.
Many recreational drugs including legal highs can affect brain chemistry potentially triggering a seizure.
As each person reacts differently to each drug, there is no way of knowing in advance if a particular drug is ‘safe’.
Even people who do not have epilepsy can have a seizure after taking recreational drugs.
High concentrations of caffeine can be found in many energy or fizzy drinks, caffeine shots and pills, and even over-the-counter cold and flu remedies.
Ask your pharmacist or epilepsy specialist nurse before taking it.
As caffeine is a stimulant, it can trigger seizures in some people.
Even drinking large amounts of tea or coffee can give you more than the daily recommended amount of caffeine and this could trigger a seizure if you have already a lower seizure threshold.
Lack of sleep / tiredness
This is one of the biggest triggers for seizures. People with epilepsy generally should avoid working night shifts as this can be the cause of sleep problems which may increase seizures.
If you are affected by insomnia, ask your doctor or specialist nurse for advice.
Establish a good sleep routine; avoid caffeine in the evening.
Also, give your brain some time to switch off after watching television and switch off electronic devices an hour before you go to bed.
Stress / anxiety
Stress and anxiety can sometimes trigger a seizure in people with epilepsy.
However, there are many different ways of combatting stress.
Simple things like going for a walk, meeting up with friends or listening to music can help you step back from a stressful situation.
Breathing techniques, yoga or meditation can also be useful tools to help you cope with stress.
For a small number of people with epilepsy, their seizures can be triggered by being bored or doing nothing.
Some people find that keeping themselves busy or using some distraction techniques when they feel a seizure coming on, can sometimes avert a seizure.
Keep your fluids topped up all the time. Dehydration can make it more likely for you to have a seizure.
This is particularly important when you are exercising. Also, when it is hot outside or when you are unwell with vomiting or diarrhoea.
Low blood sugar can sometimes trigger a seizure in people with epilepsy.
Eating regular meals can help your seizures stay controlled. If you are thinking of going on a weight loss diet, seek advice from your doctor or specialist first.
Flashing / flickering lights
Only around 3% of people with epilepsy are photosensitive, which means their seizures tend to get triggered by flashing or flickering lights.
If you are photosensitive and suddenly find yourself faced with flashing or flickering lights, try covering one eye with one hand before you either turn away from the source or switch the TV or other device off.
This can sometimes interrupt a process in the brain avoiding a seizure.
Keeping a food diary alongside your seizure diary for a few weeks. This may allow you to identify anything you consume that could trigger a seizure.
Get medical advice from your doctor, specialist nurse or a dietician before you start cutting out any food groups.
This is important as this could lead to vitamin or mineral imbalances, which can sometimes make seizures worse.
Some women have more seizures at a particular point in their menstrual cycle, as monthly hormonal fluctuations can make it more likely to have a seizure.
These fluctuations also occur after childbirth and in the run up to the menopause.
If you suspect that your seizures are linked to your menstrual cycle keep a diary for a while.
Your specialist may be able to prescribe additional medication you can take around this time of the month to give you added protection against a possible increase of seizures.