11 Common Triggers of Seizures

Did you know that up to 1 in 10 people will experience a seizure at some point in their lives? It’s true! Unfortunately, despite how common seizures are, many people don’t know much about them at all—which can have devastating, even lethal, consequences.

What are some common triggers of seizures?

So, what exactly are some common seizure triggers to know about so you can be better prepared?…

11. Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety may trigger seizures in both epileptic and non-epileptic people.

What do these seizures feel like?

The symptoms of stress-triggered seizures in people who do not have epilepsy are quite similar to those of epileptic seizures. In fact, they are so similar that stress-induced seizures are sometimes misdiagnosed as epileptic seizures.

Some of their symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Numbness
  • Convulsions

Stress-induced or epileptic?

The difference between stress-triggered seizures and epileptic seizures? The point of origin and brain activity.

  • For epileptic people, stress can increase the severity and frequency of seizures. Specifically, they can be a result of increased activity in the prinform cortex due to stress and anxiety.
  • Stress can also alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the autonomic nervous system. This alteration leads to impairments in glutamate mechanisms and limbic gamma-aminobutyric acid, thus leading to seizures.

What are some methods for managing this trigger?

Stress-induced seizures may be controlled by avoiding stressful situations and drugs that cause anxiety. Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid stressful situations. In these cases, practicing stress-management exercises may help.

Some helpful exercises include:

  • Meditating
  • Walking
  • Drinking hot tea
  • Reading a good book
  • Seeing a therapist

It’s important to remember that everyone calms down in different ways. Be patient with yourself as you explore new ways to manage your stress levels.

Another common cause of seizures?

It’s fortunately a little easier to manage and avoid…

10. Flashing Lights

Epileptic people whose seizures are triggered by flashing lights are said to have photosensitive epilepsy. The specific type of seizure associated with flashing lights is called a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, or convulsive seizure.

What are convulsive seizures like?

Convulsive seizures don’t usually last more than five minutes and have the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle contraction leading to stiffening of the body
  • The patient/individual cries out
  • Change in breathing patterns
  • Patient/individual may bite their tongue or inside of cheeks
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Jerking/twitching of limbs as muscles tighten and relax

What happens after the seizure ends?

After the convulsive seizure ends, the individual should regain consciousness as muscles relax. It’s also common for the person to:

  • Be confused
  • Have a headache
  • Feel sore
  • Experience memory loss for a short time

How can this trigger be managed?

  1. There is no cure for photosensitive epilepsy yet, but anti-epileptic medication helps reduce the frequency of seizures.
  2. If you are prone to seizures as a result of flashing lights, you can reduce your likelihood of experiencing a seizure by avoiding the stimuli.
  3. When complete avoidance isn’t possible, try covering your eyes entirely and turning your head whenever you see flashing lights.

The next trigger is unfortunately much harder to manage, and affects millions of people on a daily basis…

9. Sleep Deprivation

Seizures triggered by sleep deprivation are commonly referred to as nocturnal seizures; they are tonic-clonic seizures. Sleep deprivation mainly triggers seizures in epileptic people, although it can also affect non-epileptic people.

When exactly do nocturnal seizures occur?

Nocturnal seizures are frequent during the following times:

  • Right after falling asleep
  • Just before waking up
  • Soon after waking up

What are the symptoms of this type of seizure?

Nocturnal seizures cause unusual behavior during the night when a person is sleeping. Specifically, they may cause the person to:

  • Wake up suddenly for no apparent reason
  • Lose bladder control
  • Jerk, twitch, and shake
  • Cry out
  • Tense up
  • Fall out of bed
  • Experience difficulty post-seizure
  • Display unusual behavior or be confused after waking up
  • Physical symptoms like bruises and headaches upon awakening.

Nocturnal seizures sometimes go unnoticed because they happen when someone is asleep.

How are nocturnal seizures diagnosed?

When you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical assistance right away.

There are a few diagnostic methods, including:

  • Doctors usually perform an EEG (electrocephlarogram). This test measures electrical activity in the brain.
  • A doctor may also recommend an MRI or CT scan to see if you have a tumor or brain injury.
  • Of course, a sleep study may also determine if another condition is to blame for your symptoms, such as sleep apnea.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

If possible, sleeping with a partner may help—either in the same bed or same room. This way, if the seizure is severe, your partner can call for help.

The following cause of seizures is unfortunately incredibly common and incredibly deadly…

8. Strokes

It’s possible to experience a seizure during a stroke or sometime after.

Can can strokes cause seizures?

Strokes cause brain injuries, which result in the formation of scar tissue. The scar tissue affects the electrical activity in the brain; this subsequent disruption of electrical activity is what causes seizures.

What types of stroke cause seizures?

The two major types of stroke are:

  • Hemorrhagic: Occur when blood vessels in the brain burst, leading to internal bleeding in the head.
  • Ischemic: Occur when blood flow is restricted in the brain or a clot completely obstructs vessels.

People who have had hemorrhagic strokes are more likely to have seizures.

Severity and location of the stroke matter.

Severity and location of the stroke also influence seizure risk. Specifically, the more severe a stroke is, the greater the likelihood of seizure. Additionally, strokes that occur within the cerebral cortex are more likely to result in seizures.

When will a seizure occur?

You are most likely to have a seizure at least 30 days after a stroke, although it can occur within 24 hours of a severe stroke. Recurrent seizures after a stroke are an indication of epilepsy.

What are the symptoms of these seizures?

Symptoms of seizures caused by strokes are the same as those of generalized seizures. They include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Tingling sensations
  • Shaking
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Altered emotions
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Loss of muscle control

How are these seizures managed?

After having a stroke, patients typically stay in the hospital for a few days for observation. If they experience seizures, they are given seizure-suppressing medications.

The best method for managing these seizures? Taking steps to reduce the risk of stroke. These steps can include:

  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Not smoking
  • Controlling blood sugar
  • Monitoring cholesterol
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Consuming less salt

Can drugs affect seizures?

Yes! It’s not just prescription medications that can trigger seizures. Illicit drugs, too, may also trigger seizures in some people…

7. Drugs

Recreational drugs can trigger seizures both in epileptics and non-epileptics. It’s important to note that drug-related seizure triggers are not exclusive to illicit recreational drugs; in fact, some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are also known to trigger seizures.

The effects of drugs and the severity of the seizures they cause vary from one person to the next. Some drugs to take note of, though, include:

I. Cocaine

All forms of cocaine use can cause a seizure. Cocaine-triggered seizures can occur both in people who have not had a seizure before and epileptic people. Epileptics, though, are at heightened risk.

When do the seizures occur?

Seizures can occur within seconds, minutes, or even hours after abuse.

What are the complications?

Cocaine-triggered seizures are very dangerous. They may result in heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmia (disruption of the hearts normal rhythm), and even death.

II. Stimulants and amphetamines

Amphetamines are brain stimulants that can cause seizures when abused. However, when taken under medical supervision, they rarely cause seizures, even to epileptic people.

What are the complications?

When abused in high doses, certain stimulants like amphetamines can cause long-lasting effects to the brain. These damages can mean severe tonic-clonic seizures, cardiac arrest, and even death.

III. Marijuana

Animal studies suggest that cannabidiol/CBD (a chemical substance found in cannabis with no psychiatric effects) and tetrahydrocannabinol/THC (the active chemical in marijuana that causes psychiatric effects) can help curb seizures. In some cases, however, they may conversely trigger them.

Is marijuana helpful or hurtful for seizures?

Not much is known about the active ingredients of marijuana. That means more research is needed to determine what dosages may be helpful to those who suffer from seizures. That being said, a sudden stop in taking recreational marijuana after long-term use may cause seizures, according to some research.

IV. Heroin

Heroin and related drugs like oxytocin are chemically similar to opium.

How can heroin cause seizures?

These drugs don’t necessarily cause seizures. When taken in large amounts, though, they can restrict oxygen to the brain, which in turn could lead to seizures.

V. Caffeine and cigarette smoke

Typical use of nicotine and caffeine does not increase seizure risk. However, if used in large quantities, they can increase the likelihood of getting one.

How can these drugs trigger seizures?

Caffeine affects a person’s sleep patterns. As discussed earlier, sleep deprivation can be a trigger for some people, especially epileptics. Cigarette smoke can restrict oxygen to the brain, thus significantly increasing the likelihood of seizure.

Just remember: all drugs can lead to negative consequences when abused.

All of these drugs can cause seizures when abused, even by people who are not epileptic. They should, therefore, be avoided whenever possible (like heroin) or taken in reasonable amounts (like caffeine).

Unfortunately, the next trigger is incredibly difficult to manage…

6. Hormonal Changes

Yes, hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle can be a trigger for some people. Specifically, some epileptic girls may notice that the frequency of their seizures increases with puberty.

When do these seizures occur?

Seizures that occur during the menstrual cycle are associated with catamenial epilepsy. These seizures mainly happen around ovulation and a week before menstrual bleeding starts.

Why do these seizures occur?

Nerve cells in the brain are easily affected by progesterone and estrogen, hormones largely associated with women and menses. Animals studies have shown that high amounts of estrogen can cause or worsen seizures. Conversely, progesterone may reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.

So, doctors think that seizures that occur as a result of hormonal changes in menses are caused by hormonal imbalance. Specifically, this occurs when estrogen levels are higher than progesterone levels.

How are these seizures managed?

People experiencing seizures during their menstrual cycle can take the following steps to reduce their frequency and severity:

  • Increasing their doses of seizure-suppressing medication before their menstrual period starts. Note that this method only works for those with regular cycles. Further, the change in dosage must be supervised by a doctor.
  • Taking hormonal agents like birth control pills and progesterone.
  • Avoiding other triggers during menses.
  • Taking other precautions, such as sleeping well.

While many know that the following can cause serious problems, they might not know that one of those problems can be seizures…

5. Alcohol

Taking alcohol in small amounts doesn’t usually cause seizures, although drinking too much can trigger one.

When do these seizures occur?

Alcohol-triggered seizures usually occur during times of withdrawal or during a hangover, when alcohol is leaving your system. In some cases, a seizure may also occur when you are drinking.

Specifically, these seizures typically occur between 6 and 72 hours after you’ve stopped drinking. If you are prone to this kind of seizure, it is essential to have some company around for assistance in case one occurs.

How much alcohol can cause seizures?

The answer to that question varies by individual. However, some seizure-suppressing medications lower alcohol tolerance, making some people drunk even after light drinking. So, it’s important to exercise extreme caution when drinking.

Standard amounts of alcohol that are less likely to induce seizures are:

  • 12 oz of beer
  • 1.5 oz distilled spirits
  • 5 oz wine

If you are epileptic, you should avoid all alcohol consumption. Those who are diabetic also need to take special precautions, as the following puts someone at increased risk of seizures…

4. Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar can result in seizures, meaning diabetics and epileptics need to exercise extra caution when it comes to their dietary habits.

How can low blood sugar result in seizures?

For epileptics, maintaining a balanced diet at all times is essential. Why? Because a reduction in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) can trigger seizures.

Specifically, the brain depends on energy from sugar to function normally. So, not eating a balanced diet or missing meals can mean low blood sugar, hence depriving the brain of what it needs to properly function.

What are some methods for managing these seizures?

Seizures due to low blood sugar are prevalent for people with hypoglycemia or diabetes. To avoid manage these conditions, make sure you never miss a meal, as doing so can cause blood sugar levels to swing wildly. Instead, enjoy a balanced diet.

If you have diabetes, you should also take extra steps to manage the condition. These steps can include:

  • Exercising
  • Not smoking
  • Taking medications
  • Staying hydrated
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

The following seizure trigger is one that everyone needs to be wary of…

3. Heat Stroke

When a person becomes overheated, their chances of getting a seizure increase considerably. That’s why heat strokes are common triggers for both epileptics and non-epileptics alike.

How can heat strokes trigger seizures?

There are several ways heat strokes can trigger seizures.

For anyone

Heat strokes are associated with dehydration. Specifically, when a person overheats, they sweat to decrease their body temperature. This process naturally means loss of fluids and essential salt, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration, in turn, can trigger a seizure.

For epileptics

Sweating due to overheating is especially dangerous for epileptics. After all, sweating means not just a loss of fluids, but also sodium and sugars. The result? Hypoglycemia, in some cases—which can trigger seizures. Perspiration may also cause a reduction in the amount of medication in the system, making them more susceptible to seizures.

Furthermore, a sudden change in environmental temperature, especially cold to hot, could serve as a trigger for this group of people.

How are these seizures avoided?

  • To avoid heat strokes, it is essential to keep housing temperatures cool. Just make sure it isn’t too cool, so as to prevent a seizure due to a sudden temperature change.
  • Secondly, when outside, try relaxing in shady areas and avoid staying under the sun too long.
  • Most importantly, though, always hydrate yourself, whether indoors and outdoors.

The next seizure trigger can be treated in many different ways…

2. Infections

Infections may cause seizures, most commonly when they affect the central nervous system. However, severe infections not associated with the central nervous system can also cause seizures. They are due to critical metabolic changes and hypoxia (loss of oxygen to tissue).

What infections can trigger seizures?

Viral infections of the brain due to inflammation are associated with both focal and generalized seizures. It is characterized by:

  • Neural and glial degeneration
  • Edema
  • Inflammatory infiltration
  • Necrosis (tissue death).

Common infections that may cause seizures are:

  • Herpes simplex
  • Malaria
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (in about 2-5% of diagnosed cases)
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Brain abscesses

What infections typically don’t cause seizures?

Bacterial infections don’t typically cause seizures. There are a few exceptions to this rule, though.

  • Bacterial meningitis may cause generalized convulsions to occur.
  • Infections with Haemophilus influenzae bacteria (not the flu) can also trigger seizures.

In general, these seizures occur as a result of the primary infection or as a result of the inflammatory response to the bacterial infection.

How are these seizures managed?

Treatment of infection-triggered seizures involves the treatment of the infection itself.

The most unexpected seizure trigger of all?

The following trigger is perhaps the most unexpected of them all…

1. Music

Music has a dichotomous effect on epileptic seizures. In other words, music can prevent seizures in some people while triggering them in others.

How can music be a trigger?

Musicogenic epilepsy is a rare reflex form of epilepsy where music acts as a trigger. With it, some patients experience seizures after listening to a specific genre of music or a particular instrument. Specifically, clinical studies using fMRI have revealed that musicogenic seizures are caused by an emotional response to music—not the music itself.

What are the complications of musicogenic epilepsy?

Since music is almost everywhere, patients suffering from musicogenic seizures may also experience musicophobia, which is the fear of music.

What are some methods for managing this trigger?

To avoid this trigger, patients are advised to avoid listening to the genre of music that triggers their seizures as much as they can. In some cases, ear plugs may help.

What’s next?…

What’s most important to remember about triggers? And what happens when you recognize the signs of an upcoming seizure?…

Final Thoughts

Recognizing your triggers is the first step in minimizing the frequency and severity of the seizures. Once you know your triggers, you can better avoid them or minimize their effects on your daily life.

How can you track your triggers?

You can recognize your triggers by keeping a diary. In it, record what you were doing and what your environment was like before a seizure occurred. A repetition indicates likely triggers.

What should you do when someone else has a seizure?

When you are caught in a situation where a person is experiencing a seizure, you should:

  1. Create space by keeping other people out of the way.
  2. Remove any sharp or hard objects that may injure them.
  3. Place them on their side to keep their airway clear.
  4. Set a timer to monitor the length of time the seizure lasts.
  5. DO NOT introduce anything in their mouth. This could injure them.
  6. If the seizure extends for more than five minutes, call an ambulance right away.

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