“Triggers are individual, but there are some that are universal.”
After a diagnosis of epilepsy, you may worry about when the next seizure will appear, and what your body will do during the seizure. Over time, you’ll start to learn you own seizure triggers—the environmental and lifestyle factors that can cause the dysfunction in your brain that leads to a seizure’s abnormal electrical activity.
“Triggers are individual, but there are some that are universal,” says Padmaja Kandula, MD, neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. Here are some of the most common triggers for seizures in people with epilepsy, according to Dr. Kandula:
Sleep deprivation: This means not simply getting enough sleep, but also getting good-quality sleep. “Getting up multiple times in the night affects the deeper stages of sleep, which the brain does not like,” says Dr. Kandula. Here are daily habits of people who always sleep well.
Alcohol: A night of heavy drinking tends to block you from achieving the deeper stages of sleep that help you feel more rested, which can predispose you to a seizure the next day.
Stimulants and caffeine: Excessive amounts of coffee and energy drinks should be avoided for people with epilepsy.
Some medications: Certain antibiotics, antidepressants, and even herbal medications like Ginkgo may trigger a seizure for some people.
Flashing lights: Lights that flash or move at certain frequencies can bother some people with epilepsy—especially children—and trigger a seizure. This is known as a photosensitive response.
How to Deal with Your Triggers
In some cases, certain triggers can easily be avoided. For example, a doctor who knows you have epilepsy can prescribe an antidepressant that is not known to trigger seizures, and those who are photosensitive can avoid strobe lights and flashing lights.
“If you can’t avoid the situation, one thing you can do is cover at least one eye so you’re not getting all of the visual input from the flashing lights or the flashing colors,” says Dr. Kandula.
Despite these specific triggers, one of the most helpful ways to deal with seizure triggers is to simply live an overall healthy lifestyle. Many of the common seizure triggers—like excessive alcohol or sleep deprivation—go against healthy lifestyle recommendations whether you have epilepsy or not.
“For some patients, it’s actually kind of a wake-up call,” says Dr. Kandula. “If [the diagnosis] happens early on, people really can not only manage their [epilepsy] but really manage lifestyle and prevent other chronic problems.”
Dr. Kandula is a neurologist specializing in seizures and epilepsy at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City.
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Epilepsy is the state
of recurrent seizures.
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Triggers are individual, but
there's some that are universal.
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The brain does need optimal stagings
of sleep, particularly deep sleep.
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If that is not good quality or not enough
quantity, that makes the brain irritable.
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And if the brain becomes irritable,
it's easier to have a seizure.
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But we do counsel people to be careful in
terms of how much alcohol that they drink.
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For women, 1 equivalent in a 24
hour period, and for men, 2.
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Once beyond that, for a seizure patient,
it can cause more problems.
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It can interfere with actually
achieving the right amount of time in
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the deeper stages of sleep.
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That predisposes and
makes it easy, then, for
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that person to potentially have a seizure,
then, the next day.
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Some common stimulants that people
should avoid in general, and excess, but
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in particular if you have epilepsy,
are excessive amounts of caffeine.
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It can be very disruptive for
seizure patients and
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overstimulate the brain,
irritate the brain and produce seizures.
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Tell your other doctors that
you are on seizure medication.
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If you do need an antibiotic,
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there's some common ones that
make it easy to have a seizure,
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they're also common antidepressants,
are things such as diphenhydramine.
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Some herbal medications, such as ginkgo,
that can make it easier to have a seizure.
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Flashing lights, music, or
certain kinds of beats can
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also set off seizures in
some particular patients.
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These are what we call reflex epilepsies.
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When patients are first diagnosed
with epilepsy or seizure disorder,
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But we tell them the good news is
you can lead a very normal life.
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Patient education: seizures in adults (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2019. (Accessed on October 29, 2019 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/seizures-in-adults-beyond-the-basics.)Triggers of seizures. Landover, MD: Epilepsy Foundation. (Accessed on October 29, 2019 at https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/triggers-seizures.)