Epileptic seizures can be triggered by many different things. At times, seizures can come at the most unexpected times. For example, if someone is walking down the stairs. If you have a seizure then, you will risk the chance of falling down and injuring yourself. That’s the unpredictable part about seizures. You never know when they will strike. You have to be on guard at all times just in case one happens. To everyone I meet who doesn’t know what epilepsy is and asks me, “Why can’t you stop seizures from happening?” My response to them is, “Seizures are not like a light switch. You cannot turn them on and off. That’s not how it works.” If your brain’s electrical activity has too much activity or too little activity going on, a seizure will occur. With that being said, the types of seizure triggers are:
- Missed Medication: Missed medication is the most common cause of breakthrough seizures and prolonged seizures otherwise known as status epilepticus. Status epilepticus is most likely to follow the abrupt discontinuation of one or more AEDs. The least harmful instance is missing a dose every now and then. It is more common to miss a dose when the medication is taken three or four times daily than once or twice.
- Sleep Deprivation: Sleep deprivation can trigger a seizure. Scientists do not really know why sleep deprivation is associated with changes in the brain’s electrical, chemical, and hormonal activities. Seizures and the sleep- wake cycle are often related. Some people have their seizures while asleep or awake, and others have seizures during the transition into and out of sleep.
- Alcohol Use: Alcohol use can be followed by withdrawal seizures four to seventy two hours after the person has stopped drinking. Alcohol in small to moderate amounts actually counteract seizures. Withdrawal seizures are most common in people who have abused alcohol for years. When alcohol consumption has stopped suddenly or has been reduced over a short period of time, a seizure may occur.
- Drug Abuse: Cocaine can cause seizures. All forms of cocaine can cause seizures to happen within seconds to hours. Seizures caused by cocaine are very dangerous and may be associated with heart attacks, interruption of the heart’s normal rhythm, and death. Studies have shown that people who use nicotine and caffeine in excess notice an increase in their seizure activity. In the past, marijuana was used to treat epilepsy and can be used as an antiepileptic treatment. It can also provoke seizures in some cases. Marijuana is not recommended today as an epilepsy treatment because its benefits are unproven.
- Menstrual Cycle: Approximately one third of women with epilepsy has increased seizures during their menstrual cycle. This is called catamenial epilepsy. Seizures may occur shortly before menstruation, during and after it, or at the time of ovulation. The premenstrual and ovulatory phases has the highest seizure frequencies. Hormonal changes are the likely cause of seizures during this time. The sex hormones estrogen and progesterone alter the activity of the brain’s nerve cells.
- Stress: Stress affects brain function in various ways. Stress and the emotions that go along with it such as worry, fear, depression, frustration, and anger can cause sleep deprivation. Stress and anxiety can also cause an increase in the breathing rate, or hyperventilation. In addition to that, stress can also cause the steroid hormone cortisol to increase which can cause seizures to happen.
- Over- The- Counter Drugs: Some over- the- counter medications can occasionally cause first- time seizures or provoke a seizure in a person who has epilepsy. Some cold, sleep, and allergy medications that contains Benadryl and other antihistamines can cause one to occur.
- Illness Or Fever: Having the flu or fever can increase the risk of a person having a seizure.
- Hypoglycemia: Having very low blood sugar can cause someone to have a seizure.
Source: “Epilepsy: Patient And Family Guide” by Orrin Devinsky, MD