'Stress' drawn in the sand with a wave beginning to cover it.

Common seizure triggers: What are they and how to recognise them?

Updated 30/11/2021

If you have witnessed a seizure, you know how nerve-racking the situation can feel. If you have had a common seizure trigger, you know they can be difficult to explain to others.

Even if you have never experienced a seizure yourself, you could easily become a bystander to a person who does. Be prepared by knowing how to recognise a seizure so you can take the right steps.

Triggers versus causes

Seizure causes and seizure triggers are different. Triggers are situations that can bring on a seizure. For example, sleep deprivation can be a trigger while the underlying cause may be a head injury.

The leading causes of a seizure generally involves some sort of injury to the brain. Epilepsy is a term for the tendency to have more than one unexplained seizure. A person is usually only diagnosed with epilepsy after they have had more than one seizure.

Here are some common causes of seizures:

  • Head injuries that occur during birth

  • Low oxygen during birth

  • Head injuries during youth or adulthood

  • Brain tumours

  • Inherited from family
  • Genetic conditions

  • Infections such as meningitis or encephalitis

  • Stroke

  • Abnormal levels of substances such as sodium or blood sugar

People that experience seizures or have epilepsy report different triggers. While the triggers do vary, here are some commonly reported ones.

  • Lack of sleep

  • At times of fevers or illness

  • During alcohol or drug use

  • Stress

  • Hormonal changes such as menstrual cycles

  • Metabolic problems

  • Use of certain medications

  • Specific foods

  • Excess caffeine

  • Low blood sugar

  • Flashing bright lights

  • Certain sounds

  • During specific times of the day or night (during sleep)

'Stress' drawn in the sand with a wave washing it away.
Stress is a common trigger for seizures

[Image description: The word, ‘Stress’ is drawn in the sand. A wave partially covers the last two letters of the word.]


How to tell if something is a common seizure trigger

It can be tricky to work out what is a genuine trigger and what is purely a coincidence. It can help to look at possible warning signs. Take these steps to obtain a better understanding of what is a definite trigger of your seizures.

Take note of:

  • The time of day the seizure occurs

  • How long the seizure lasted

  • Any special situations surrounding the time of your seizure

  • How you felt before, during, and after the seizure

  • Anything you ate or consumed before the seizure occurred

  • Anything that might have changed in your regular environment prior to the seizure occurring

Using the Seer app is a great way to record the frequency of your seizures and take note of your possible triggers or symptoms. Documenting the circumstances surrounding the event is helpful in finding out what your triggers are. Together with your doctor, you will be able to determine your triggers through detailed documentation. Using the Seer app helps you achieve this.

Download the Seer app to keep track of your seizures and make notes on triggers or symptoms.

How to avoid triggering a seizure

The first step to avoid triggering your seizures is to determine what your triggers are. After you have done this, avoid these situations and scenarios to protect your health and general safety. Living a healthy and active lifestyle can also help to avoid having seizures. Here are general ways to avoid triggering a seizure:

  • If you have epilepsy, always take your medication as prescribed
  • Maintain a normal daily routine which includes working, socialising, exercising, and eating well
  • Create a consistent sleep routine
  • Take steps to recognise and reduce stress
  • Have a reliable support network
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Avoid large quantities of caffeine or high energy drinks
A person sleeping
Avoid triggering a seizure by creating a consistent sleep routine

[Image description: A person sleeping with a pillow on a mattress.]

Can a seizure be triggered even if you don’t have epilepsy?

Not everyone who has seizures has epilepsy. Both epileptic and non-epileptic seizures can be brought on by triggers. Here are some common triggers of non-epileptic seizures.

  • Stress, anxiety, or underlying trauma

  • Low blood sugar

  • Heatstroke

  • Alcohol withdrawal

  • Taking certain medications

  • Sleep deprivation

When should you consult with your doctor if you experienced a common seizure?

If you have experienced a seizure, consult with a doctor immediately. This is crucial if you have had more than one or if they last more than a few minutes. It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor if you experience any warning signs.

Track the events surrounding your seizure and discuss this with your doctor. Providing this information will help both you and your doctor to discover what may be triggers and come up with ways to proactively avoid them in the future.

Your doctor will most likely order some tests to monitor your heart (ECG test) and brain activity (EEG test). These tests will be able to detect if anything unusual appears in your heart or brain activity. Following these tests, your doctor will determine if any medical treatment is needed.

Get the answers you need

If you or a loved one has experienced a seizure and are looking for a diagnosis, we can help. At Seer Medical, we provide an at-home diagnostic test called Video-EEG-ECG. This helps immensely in recording your events and aiding in diagnosis and subsequent management or treatment. You can also use the Seer app to record events and share them with your doctor. Contact us today to see how we can help in getting you a diagnosis and to see if our services are right for you and your needs.

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