Common seizure triggers and how to control them

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When you or someone you care about has a health condition that can cause seizures, it is helpful to understand what factors can cause a seizure to happen. Providers at SIU Medicine encourage everyone to learn about seizure triggers and how to control them. 

What can trigger a seizure?

Seizures can happen for no clear reason. But many individuals who have epilepsy or other seizure-related disorders will begin to notice patterns or predictable features of their seizure episodes. For example, someone might notice that they are more likely to have seizures when:

  • They are highly stressed
  • They are sleep-deprived
  • They are having their period or at some other point in their menstrual cycle
  • They eat certain foods, including foods and beverages with caffeine
  • They don't eat enough or go a long time without a meal
  • They are dehydrated
  • They miss one or more medication doses 
  • They are acutely sick and/or have a fever
  • They consume alcohol or other substances

Other common seizure triggers include noises, bright flashing lights and even certain activities like reading. People with a form of epilepsy called reflex epilepsy generally have seizures that are consistently triggered by certain situations or stimuli (as if the seizure is a "reflex").

Regarding a skipped dosage of medication, if a person misses one dose it generally takes 3 days to come back to a therapeutic level in the blood. Missing two dosages requires 5 days to return to normal. In that time a breakthrough seizure can occur.

Benefits of recognizing seizure triggers

There are some important benefits of learning how to recognize your triggers. First, knowing the specific stimuli or situations associated with your seizure activity can help you manage your condition and may help you reduce the frequency of your seizure episodes. 

Learning to recognize your seizure triggers can also help reduce any fear or worry you might have about certain activities. Just because something appears to trigger a seizure once or twice doesn't necessarily mean that the stimulus is always going to cause seizures. But unless you learn to identify and monitor your unique triggers, you might unnecessarily avoid (or feel a lot of anxiety about) certain social situations or opportunities.

When you understand your triggers, you also help the people around you feel more prepared to help you in situations in which you are more likely to experience a seizure. 

Ideas to help control seizure triggers

If you have seizures, one of the best ways to start feeling more in control over your health is to keep a diary or journal about your personal seizure activity. Write an entry after each episode, and note helpful details such as:

  • What time of day it happened
  • What was going on around you when your seizure happened
  • Any details or additional context you find helpful (e.g., what your stress levels or emotions were like, what you recently ate, whether you were sleep-deprived, etc.)

Consistently writing down this kind of information gives you the ability to observe patterns over time. Review this diary with your loved ones and doctor. Your doctor will be able to provide additional guidance on appropriate treatment options and any lifestyle modifications that can help you manage your condition. 

Do you need help getting in control of your seizures? 

At SIU Medicine, you can connect with health care providers who have advanced training and experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of epilepsy and other seizure-related disorders. Call 217-545-8000 now to schedule an appointment with someone who can help you gain more control over your health and quality of life. 

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