There is often no apparent reason why a seizure occurs at one time and not another. However, some people find that certain triggers make a seizure more likely. These triggers are not the cause of epilepsy, but they may trigger a seizure on some occasions.
Commonly reported triggers include:
- Fluctuating blood glucose levels
- Illness or fever
- Stress and anxiety
- Changes in medication or missed doses
- Hormonal changes during puberty for both boys and girls, including menstruation
- Flashing or flickering lights
- Alcohol or recreational drugs
Knowing what triggers a seizure can make it easier to predict and hopefully prevent them.
These triggers need to be taken into account when planning activities. If a young person is more likely to have seizures when they are tired, it may be possible to arrange for them to start school later on some days, particularly if they have had seizures overnight. Regular sleep patterns are important so this needs to be taken into consideration when planning residential trips for example. Encouraging young people to eat healthy snacks during break times will keep blood sugar levels balanced. If stress is a significant trigger of seizures then teaching stress management and relaxation skills may be beneficial.
Only about 5% of young people with epilepsy are sensitive to flashing or flickering lights, geometric shapes or patterns. A flicker rate of between 3 and 60 times a second (3-60Hz) is the frequency most likely to cause problems.
Computer screens (including hand held devices) and interactive whiteboards are unlikely to trigger seizures. However, light reflecting on them or images shown on them may be an issue if they are flashing at the rate known to trigger seizures. Other triggers, commonly associated with photosensitive epilepsy include sunlight reflecting on water or passing through blinds, railings or a row of trees.
As with all types of epilepsy, each young person will be affected differently and all relevant information should be recorded on their Individual Healthcare Plan.