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seizure triggers

Triggers are situations that can bring on a seizure in some people with epilepsy. Some people's seizures are bought on by certain situations. Triggers can differ from person to person, but common triggers include tiredness and lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, and not taking medication. For some people, if they know what triggers their seizures, they may be able to avoid these triggers and so lessen the chances of having a seizure.

Our free smartphone app contains seizure management tools, including a seizure diary to help you monitor your triggers. It is available on both iPhone and Android phones. Alternatively you can download a PDF seizure diary or get a printed seizure diary from our shop.

Photosensitive epilepsy

For some people, seizures can be triggered by flashing or flickering lights or patterns. This is called photosensitive epilepsy. Photosensitive epilepsy affects only up to 5% (1 in 20) of people with epilepsy.

You will usually be tested for photosensitive epilepsy when you go through a diagnosis of epilepsy. This test involves looking at sequences of light flashes during an EEG so the doctors can see if your brain activity on the EEG recording changes when you are exposed to the light stimulation. If you are not sure whether you may be photosensitive, you can ask your GP or specialist whether you’ve had the test for it.

Triggers and causes

Triggers for seizures are not the same as causes for epilepsy. A trigger for someone to have their first seizure may be a stressful situation, but the underlying cause for that person to start having seizures may be quite different. Causes can be genetic or as a result of structural damage to the brain. See more about causes of epilepsy.

Because epilepsy can develop at any time of life, it can sometimes be difficult to work out why seizures have started. If you have a seizure, it may seem to make sense that there must be a particular cause, such as stress, or alcohol, for example. However, the likelihood of having a seizure at some point may have been there already for you, and the stress or alcohol has triggered it.

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