Epilepsy Talk

Common Epilepsy Triggers | November 11, 2017

Epilepsy affects each person differently. Below is a guide to some common seizure triggers. You may not feel or notice anything in particular. Or you may have triggers which are not mentioned here. Keeping a seizure diary is the most effective way of keeping track of what triggers your seizures.

Reflex Epilepsy

Some people notice that their seizures occur in response to very specific stimuli or situations, as if the seizure is an automatic “reflex.”  In this type of seizure, it occurs 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 can be seizures triggered by the act of reading or by noises. These reflex epilepsies are not common. However, knowing the type of epilepsy and trigger is important information for a correct diagnosis. You can then work on eliminating these triggers whenever possible or find ways to lessen their effect on you.


Stress 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, as you may imagine, 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.

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 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.


Heat-induced seizures, are most commonly experienced by children. However, only one in 100 kids who experience this type of seizure is also diagnosed with epilepsy and many outgrow the condition before they reach the age of five.


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.


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.


Certain over-the-counter medications are considered safe for those with epilepsy. For runny and stuffed noses, consider strong pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. (Although there are reports of seizures caused by these drugs too!) For aches and pains, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol, Panadol, Excedrin Aspirin Free) is probably the safest medication.


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.


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.

Another article that may be of interest is:

Weird Epilepsy Triggers


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  1. My seizures are almost certainly stressed triggered. They are either triggered in the hours surrounding the stress or at the very least, in the day/night following it.


    Comment by Margaret — November 12, 2017 @ 3:47 PM

    • Stress. Don’t ya just love it?

      But how do we get it out of our lives?


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 12, 2017 @ 3:49 PM

      • Try meditation….TM


        Comment by Michael Collins — May 30, 2018 @ 11:19 AM

      • Excellent idea.

        You can have medication without meditation. Most of us do.

        You can do meditation without medication. Most of us wouldn’t and shouldn’t take that risk.

        But together, they can enhance one another.

        Epilepsy: Meditation vs. Medication



        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 30, 2018 @ 11:23 AM

      • I’ve had epilepsy since I was 15, I’m now 68, and started TM when I was 23. Its not a cure but its definitely helped me especially in coping with attacks. Plus I’ve gained so many benefits in other areas of my life.


        Comment by Michael Collins — May 30, 2018 @ 12:06 PM

      • SUPER!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 30, 2018 @ 12:09 PM

  2. Musicogenic Epilepsy, I find interesting and interesting too. I wondered if that could something that could provoke1. At times when I hear the old song “Lady”, I have 1.


    Comment by Lori Lewis — November 12, 2017 @ 4:04 PM

  3. If you would like to post articles on our website for epilepsy awareness month, please contact me. Love your work and devotion to helping people with epilepsy.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by staceychil — November 12, 2017 @ 4:10 PM

  4. Reblogged this on catsissie.


    Comment by catsissie — November 12, 2017 @ 6:08 PM

  5. When I was suffering from Epilepsy my ex-kept notes and it was his notes that I was made aware of the change in seasons caused my seizures. Going to Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall caused my seizures


    Comment by Jill Whiting — November 12, 2017 @ 7:24 PM

    • Change of seasons, atmospheric pressure and barometric pressure are all triggers.

      So, if you’re you’re sensitive to one, chances are, you’re sensitive to the others as well.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 12, 2017 @ 9:39 PM

  6. Seizure triggers for me are not fancy – not enough sleep, forgetting a round pills, and adding on a late night dinner with lots of wine. The combination is a never – fail, but the worst of all is not enough sleep. BTW it is bed time. Goodnight and rest well….


    Comment by Kate Jacques — November 12, 2017 @ 8:55 PM

  7. Chardonnay is ok by me! 🙂

    Then there’s Melatonin. 10MG for when I can’t sleep.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 12, 2017 @ 9:48 PM

  8. Stress was my biggest trigger,we can’t relieve completely but we can reduce it.

    Meditation, yoga,Thai Chi any of these will help to calm the soul so you can cope with the stress of modern life.

    It’s tough coping with epilepsy,I looked to anything that would help with external stress.

    Be kind to yourself.


    Comment by Berenice John — November 13, 2017 @ 2:14 AM

  9. My 10 year old grandson has gran mal seizures…what would trigger seizures of that nature in a child? He also has cerebral palsy with physical therapy needs for mobility…his personality, mind and humor are wonderful!


    Comment by Darlene S Marshall — December 11, 2017 @ 9:55 PM

  10. I get seizures sometimes when I’m playing chess. It doesn’t always happen, sometimes I get a warning sometimes not. I love chess so continue to play…does anyone else have this problem?


    Comment by Michael Collins — May 2, 2018 @ 12:54 PM

    • Apparently, playing this thinking game, which can require intense concentration, can induce seizures. (You heard it first here!)


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 2, 2018 @ 2:57 PM

  11. It might make sense if someone could talk to state and fed health and human services as well as law enforcement to.explain that NOT everyone with epilepsy, particularly those on anti-convulsants, is triggered by strobe lights especially in Illinois where they still think epileptics are mentally ill AND possessed by the devil.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Susan — May 30, 2018 @ 10:15 AM

    • Can your local epilepsy foundation give educational lectures or hand out materials?

      Ours does to all public service workers, nurses, teachers, ER staff and others.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 30, 2018 @ 10:36 AM

  12. Too much sugar & salty foods can also be a trigger


    Comment by Ann — June 13, 2018 @ 7:15 PM

  13. Over 14 months ago, a repair person working on 2 cycle engines was going to look at my weed eater, knowing he sold me another 1. I like having 2 on hand, so this new 1 wasn’t going to go bad anytime soon. Still 1 week isn’t a 6 week span as I am 35 miles away from his shop & I was driving by his place once a week for that past month. Well I got cussed out on my 3rd stop in every 2 weeks, and that day he ordered me off his place after doing business with him for at least 15 years or more. So I took it down the road & had another person try to say what was wrong with it & he told me so he kept it as I gave it to him for parts, as it saw its best days. That night, 4-28-19 I had a GRAND MAL from all that stress. Now FFWD>> to 8-10-20. This weed eater went bad so I went back to the 2nd person, who said in 3 days I will have it back. That was on JULY-20th-2020. This past Tues on the 10th, I stopped by driving through the area, & I wasn’t welcomed as my weed eater wasn’t ready after more than 2 weeks. 30 miles away & this person from the day I dropped it off had an ego as if I wasn’t important to him, as he had brain surgery 30 years ago with no seizures since, so we had something in common. The stress from his attitude with me & demanded me to not come back nor did he want my money, I again later that Tuesday night had a GRAND MAL seizure. Some people would sue those 2 people for UNDUE HARDSHIP, but they are not worth it, as their days are coming when they least expect it. Both of them have a RED face, which means with most people that they have HBP, High Blood Pressure. So stay away from those who are ready to tear you up alive, as seizures are not worth their stress added to your brain chemistry. Call them,, THOSE 2 PEOPLE a trigger if you like, but as for other triggers, I have to say & ask HOW are they a trigger ? when if something else changes brain chemistry, then that is a CAUSE I would think. MSG, ASPARTAME, NITRATES, NITRITES are just 4 toxins & chemicals I would call ”causes of seizures” not triggers.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by James D — August 15, 2020 @ 5:12 PM

  14. Their hardship is unfortunate. But it is not yours. And yes, they could likely tear you up alive. Even if they knew you shared a common “bond”.

    Their trigger is a long lasting anger. Your wisdom was to walk away from that particular trigger. Although you can’t avoid them all.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 15, 2020 @ 6:54 PM

  15. Follow


    Comment by Jamal — March 21, 2022 @ 11:56 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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