Health Matters

Epilepsy – be aware of factors that can trigger a seizure

Some people newly diagnosed with epilepsy, and sometimes even long-time sufferers, may not be aware of the situations in their lives that can trigger a seizure. Situations that can bring about a seizure differ greatly from person to person.

Furthermore, according to the wife of someone with epilepsy, they are often placed in difficult social situations when others question why they decline some food or drink on offer or won’t join in certain activities.

Epilepsy has many causes, including damage to the brain, but mostly the cause is unknown.  Triggers are not the cause of epilepsy but situations in which the electrical signalling in the brain is more likely to be disrupted, resulting in a seizure. Once identified, these triggers can be avoided, reducing the chances of experiencing a seizure.

Today epileptic seizures are largely managed through proper diagnosis and prescribed medication.  Obviously, not taking one’s medication is the most important situation leading to seizures. The medicine must be taken for the rest of the person’s life, preferably at the same time of the day.

Skipping a dose once or taking it a bit late will probably not lead to a seizure. It’s also important not to take a double dose to make up or if you can’t remember whether you’ve taken it that day.  This can cause serious side effects.

The main reason we miss taking medication is that we forget.  Pillboxes or set a phone alarm for the same time each day or to consciously link it to another established routine, such as after brushing your teeth in the morning.

The most common seizure triggers are those situations we all associate with reduced functioning of our brains the next day.  These include lack of sleep; stress, emotional upset and excitement; overindulgence in alcohol –can reduce the effectiveness of medication-and recreational drugs. Very hot weather and hot baths or showers are further common triggers.

Some people with epilepsy have also found that a healthy balanced diet, which supplies all the nutrients the brain needs, reduces the risk of seizures. Overindulgence in sugar seems to be a trigger for some. Many other foodstuffs have been identified by individuals themselves as possible triggers including stimulants such as tea and Coffee.

In about 3% of those with epilepsy, seizures are brought about by what is known as the strobe effect – flashing or flickering lights or contrasting light and dark patterns.  They need to avoid certain computer games, faulty televisions that flicker, strobe lights used in nightclubs, and strings of flashing LED lights (think Christmas parties). Even the flashes of light caused by sunlight on rivers and driving past railings or a forest can trigger seizures.

Music can trigger seizures in a very small number of those with epilepsy – and the specific type of music differs between people. Other unusual triggers are getting a fright from a sudden loud noise or someone tapping you on the shoulder, certain smells, writing and reading.

It’s clear that there are many possible triggers for seizures in individuals and they are different for each person. The important thing is to think about the circumstances before seizures occurred so that those situations which could possibly lead to seizures can be identified.

Furthermore, everyone should respect another’s decision if they refuse certain food, drink or activities and not treat them as though they are “full of nonsense”.

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