If you have epilepsy, you’ll know that trying to prevent seizures can be really tricky. Gain better control of your condition by learning to recognise patterns and avoiding triggers.
Epilepsy is a disorder of brain function that takes the form of recurring convulsive or non-convulsive seizures, according to Epilepsy Australia. These seizures (or sudden, dramatic “electrical storms” in the brain) cannot always be predicted, and in many cases the exact reasons are unknown.
What is known, however, is that certain factors may precipitate seizures. These factors are known as “seizure triggers”.
Not all people with epilepsy respond to the same seizure triggers. But, as time goes by, you may see a pattern starting to form – i.e. you may notice that your seizures usually follow stressful periods when you’ve consumed more alcohol than usual.
As triggers differ from person to person, it’s useful to keep a diary of factors that may be triggering your seizures, as this will help you spot patterns, helping you to minimise seizures in future.
There are also some well-known seizure triggers, which affect a great percentage of people with epilepsy. Epilepsy Australia advises people with epilepsy to avoid the following:
Sleep deprivation. Try to go to bed at more or less the same time every night and make sure you get sufficient rest.
Excessive drinking. This can interfere with anti-epileptic medication and your routine, making you more prone to seizures. Have no more than one or two small drinks per day: wine (100ml), beer (285ml), or one nip of spirits (30ml).
Caffeine. Heavy caffeine intake can trigger seizures. It’s not only coffee that contains caffeine; tea and many carbonated drinks do as well.
Irregular meals. Missed meals can lead to low blood sugar levels, which can trigger seizures in some people. It’s important to eat breakfast and never to skip meals.
Irregular taking of medication. Not taking your medication or taking it irregularly can lead to severe and prolonged seizures.
Extreme stress. We all need stress in our lives, but when it gets too much, it can trigger seizures in some people. Stress-relieving techniques should be a part of everyone’s life, including people who are prone to seizures.
Withdrawal. If you stop taking sedative and hypnotic drugs, the withdrawal symptoms can trigger seizures. Changes in the medication you’re taking need to be overseen by a doctor. Withdrawal from illegal drugs is also a major problem. Withdrawal from cocaine and ecstasy in particular appears to trigger seizures.
Photosensitivity. Contrary to public perception, flickering sunlight or strobe lights or flickering TVs trigger seizures in very few epileptics. However, wrap-around sunglasses will protect you from the effects of flickering sunlight if you’re sensitive to it. Putting your hand over one eye will also reduce the effects of flickering lights.
Menstrual periods. Many women notice an increase in the number of seizures they experience just before or during menstruation. Increased fluid retention and a change in hormone levels are thought to be responsible. This needs to be discussed with a doctor.
Unusual triggers. These could include sudden warm weather, the colour yellow, the smell of glue, the sounds of a siren, or even the ringtone of a mobile phone.