Seizure Triggers and Precipitants

The immediate factors that provoke a given seizure are complex, and seizures are rarely predictable. Seizures may be triggered or irritated by a variety of mechanisms. The most common trigger is, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and can also influence seizure frequency.

  • Women are affected by pregnancy and menstrual cycles.
  •  Excessive use and withdrawal from alcohol or drugs may trigger seizures, as can illness or fever.
  • Adding or removing prescription medications or supplements can trigger seizures, and should therefore be done gradually.

Some studies indicate that emotional stresses such as worry, anxiety & anger may cause seizures, especially if combined with fatigue or chronic sleep loss. Practicing relaxation techniques and treating disorders contributing to sleep loss (such as deep sleep apnea) may decrease seizure frequency. Melatonin has been successfully given for sleep loss in children. Unpredictable changes in metabolic factors such as vomiting, diarrhea & physical stress can also contribute to seizures.  In contrast, reflex epilepsy is a condition in which seizures can be provoked by an external stimulus (flashing lights) or, occasionally , by an internal mental process (mathematical calculation). Reflex seizures are fairly predictable in response to specific stimuli, and may coexist with spontaneously occurring seizures. They are epileptic, not psychogenic, and may occur as either focal-onset or primary generalized seizures. An EEG response to repetitive light stimulation is called “photo-sensitivity” and is seen in about 25 percent of individuals with primary generalized epilepsy.

Reflex epilepsy usually begins in childhood and may be outgrown by adulthood. Triggers in pattern-sensitive epilepsy may include circles, stripes or other patterns, usually of high contrast. TV and electronic screen games have caused reflex seizures. This may be due to the flicker frequency of the screen and distance from it, as well as images. European TV has a lower flicker frequency and is therefore more apt to trigger seizures. Individuals who experience their first seizure while playing electronic screen games are found to be photosensitive.

Other types of sensory stimuli, such as light touch, tapping or soaking in hot water can be associated with reflex seizures; auditory stimuli are less common triggers of seizures. Another type of reflex epilepsy  that is even more intriguing and unusual is that triggered by complex actions or mental processes. This includes primary reading epilepsy, seizures induced by thinking and eating-induced seizures.  For the most part, once the triggers have been identified, exposure can be limited, and that is the typical treatment, along with standard anti-seizure medications

Types of Seizures

These are also commonly referred to as Grand Mal or Convulsions and are the most noticeable kind. They occur when the whole brain is suddenly swamped with electrical energy. The seizure begins with a cry which is caused by air being suddenly forced out of the lungs. The person would fall to the ground, unconscious, the body stiffens and then starts to jerk.

Saliva may appear around the mouth, the persons tongue may be bitten, breathing gets very shallow and can even stop for a few minutes causing the skin to turn a bluish color. The jerking movements then slow down and the seizure ends after a minute or two. Bladder or bowel control is sometimes lost. When Consciousness returns the person who has had the seizure may fee confused and sleepy.

In some cases only a very short recovery period is required after which people can go back to their normal activities. If the seizure is prolonged, or the person is injured, medical attention is essential.

These are also referred to as petit mal and look like day dreaming or blank staring . They begin and end abruptly last only a few seconds and are most often seen in children. The child having this type of seizure is totally unaware of people and things that are around him for a few seconds but will quickly return to full awareness. These seizures happen so quick that the child and sometimes other people around him may not notice them. Sometimes these seizures produce blinking or chewing movements, turning of the head or waving of the arms.
Are drop attacks that cause sudden falls.
produce massive muscle jerks.
Are characterized by head drops or body spasms.
These seizures produce changes in a persons sensation, movement or feeling without alteration of consciousness. Sometimes the movements start in one area of the body and then slowly progress upwards to involve one whole side. The seizure may make things look strange or the person may or may not see things that are not there. They may hear strange noises or a feeling that what is happening around them has happened before. They may feel strange sensations on one side of the body or a rising feeling in the abdomen. These feelings will last several seconds up to a minute or more.

The cause of these disturbances which are frightening and can be very upsetting to those who do not know what is causing them is seizure activity taking place in parts of the brain that control movement, seeing, hearing, memory or feeling.

These are sometimes referred to as psychomotor or temporal lobe seizures affect awareness. A complex partial seizure makes a person appear to be in a trance and go through a series of movements over which they have no control.  The kinds of movements will vary from individual to individual there may be a distinctive pattern of actions that each person follows every time a seizure happens.

A seizure of this type may start with a warning, called an aura which is actually the simple partial seizure that precedes impairment of consciousness: a strange sensation, a feeling of fear perhaps, or a sudden sick feeling in the stomach, or even seeing or hearing something that is not  really there. The person stares blankly, and may make chewing movements with the mouth. He or she may move an arm, pull at clothing, get up and walk around, all the time looking dazed and out of touch with the environment. Although not completely aware of things and people around them a person having this kind of seizure may follow simple direction if they are given in a calm, friendly voice.

Sometimes these complex partial seizures produce more dramatic changes in behavior, including screaming, crying , moaning, laughing, disrobing,running, or apparent fear. Although most of these seizures last for only a minute or two, full awareness may not return for some time afterwards. Confusion and irritability may follow and the person will not remember what happened or what they did while the seizure was happening. Both simple or complex  partial seizures may affect enough brain cells to spread and become a Generalized Tonic Clonic (Grand Mal) seizure. Doctors describe these as partial seizures secondarily generalized.

Common Symptoms

  • Jamais vu (familiar things suddenly seem unfamiliar)
  • Trembling that moves up one side of the body
  • Deja vu (unfamiliar things seem familiar)
  • Smells that are not there
  • People talking, music or sounds when there are none
  • Taste suddenly occurring within the mouth
  • Vortex (Being sucked into a Vacuum or Spinning/Dizzy feeling)
  • Lightheaded
  • Upset Stomach (Turning of the Stomach)
  • Sudden Shifts in Mood
  • Unexplained Anger or fear
  • Disturbed speech
  • Picking at clothes
  • Repeated phrases
  • Senseless, clumsy movements
  • Wandering
  • Lip Smacking
  • Facial Droop
  • Eyes Glazed
  • Eyes Rolling
  • Lack of response to others
  • Lost time
  • Disrobing
  • Being briefly unaware of danger or pain
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control

Food and Food Additives Known to Cause Seizures

Monosodium glutamate – (also known as MSG, gelatin, calcium caseinate,  hydorlyzed vegetable protein, textured protein, monopotassium glutamate, hydrolyzed plant protein, yeast extract, glutamate, autolyzed plant protein yeast, glutamic acid, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast) is commonly used as a flavor enhancer found in packaged foods and in some restaurants. Check the labeling or ask the restaurant.

Caffeine – Caffeine can be in coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, most soft drinks, aspirin, etc… Check the labeling. Labels that read “decaffeinated” are not totally free of caffeine. To be sure the label should read “No Caffeine,” or “Caffeine Free”, or indicate that the substance never contained caffeine at all. Theobromine is very similar to caffeine, and it is often a metabolite of caffeine. It is most prevalent in tea and chocolate.

Theophylline – is an asthma drug that is very similar to theobromine.

Estrogen – is a hormone produced in abundance by women but less so in men. Estrogen can be in meats, dairy products, and other foods. It is always in birth control pills, for Women if you have more seizures around your period this is an indication that your hormones are out of balance. Talk about this with your physician and epilepsy specialist as some extra progesterone might help.

Soy – Can cause problems very much like estrogen due to the phytoestrogens it hold. It is prevalent in tofu, soy sauce, soy beans, edamame, miso, natto, shoyu, tamari, tempeh, texturized vegetable protein, TVP, soy milk, soy nuts, soy grits, soy protein, soy protein isolate, soybean paste/curd, sobee, kyodofu, soy sprouts, soy flour.

Aspartame – Also known as nutrasweet, equal, spoonful, benevia, natrataste, etc.

Cured Meats – Nitroso compounds in hot dogs, sausages, cured hams, etc. Can cause many neurological problems including seizures.

Seizure First Aid

Do you know what to do if someone is having a seizure?

  • First remain calm and ask others around to do the same. People who are having a seizure can often hear what is happening around them. It can be comforting to hear that  they are ok, and that they are not alone.
  • Look for any identification tags such as an ID bracelet or necklace showing you whether the person has Epilepsy. If they don’t have one and you are not aware that the individual has Epilepsy, call 911.
  • Do not restrain the person, and never put anything inside their mouth. This can actually do more harm than good.
  • Lay the individual on their side so that it helps to clear their airways.
  • Put something soft between their head and the floor so that they don’t bang their head.
  •  Try to time the length of the seizure. This is important information for the Doctors to know.
  •  If someone can video the seizure, this can be very helpful for the Doctor.
  • When they come out of the seizure be comforting and supportive to the individual.