NeuroPace Blog

How to Recognize Seizure Triggers

Key Takeaways

  • Certain situations, activities, or behaviors may set off epileptic seizures. These factors are called seizure triggers and vary from person to person.
  • By recording brain activity, the RNS System can support seizure diaries, the long-standing method for tracking seizure circumstances.

What triggers seizures and how to stop seizures?

When someone has epilepsy, certain situations, activities or behaviors can set off seizures. These seizure triggers vary from person to person and can help guide individualized care — if they are accurately identified. But how do you tell when something is just random coincidence and when it has real meaning? And how best to track and assess your suspicions?

Until recently, that undertaking has rested solely on keeping a seizure diary. This type of log records noticeable epilepsy attacks to share with doctors, plus any additional circumstances the person with epilepsy feels are noteworthy. But even with keenly observed details — time and location, foods eaten, hours slept, etc. — gaps and guesswork persist.

Since approval of the NeuroPace RNS System, people with drug-resistant epilepsy find that its ability to track brain activity helps fill in the missing context. They can then take steps to limit their seizure triggers.

“I’m able to cross-reference information from the diary with data from the RNS System,” says Michael, a former police officer from Texas. And he’s not alone in reporting that benefit.

Learning about common seizure triggers

Seizure triggers occur in specific scenarios and are particular to each person. They also need to follow a consistent pattern — if something happens all the time and only occasionally leads to a seizure, it may just represent a coincidence.

Not everyone with epilepsy experiences seizure triggers, but they’re a frequent feature of the condition. In addition to seizures potentially forming around the same times each day, common seizure triggers can include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Sickness (and possibly developing a fever)
  • Flashing lights or patterns
  • Using recreational drugs, drinking heavily, or withdrawing from these substances
  • Certain medications — or forgetting to take medications
  • Menstruation or other changes in hormone levels
  • Dehydration
  • Eating and hydrating too infrequently, following a diet that lacks too many vitamins and minerals, or eating certain foods
  • Consuming too much caffeine
  • Stress

RNS System patients who have shared their stories or epilepsy insights discovered that their seizure triggers included high-carbohydrate meals, too much caffeine, exhaustion, and hot weather. One user even mentioned stressful mother-in-law visits.

Michael eventually discovered that one of his seizure triggers was intense physical exercise. For another RNS System patient, Heather from North Carolina, it was drinking orange juice. Those realizations only came with the help of the RNS System data.

When comparing that information with her seizure diary, “my doctor noticed the orange juice,” Heather says.

Identifying seizure triggers with the RNS System

The NeuroPace RNS System delivers neurostimulation only as needed. But the implantable device constantly looks for and records seizure activity. Users can create a recording of their brain activity by swiping their heads with a special magnet whenever they feel seizures coming on.

An electronic wand allows users to easily transfer seizure data from the neuostimulator to a remote monitor and on to doctors. During office visits, doctors and patients review the information together, along with seizure diary entries. In addition to fine-tuning treatment settings, doctors can help look for seizure patterns and seizure triggers.

Heather’s doctor noticed a pattern: She drank orange juice only at certain times, when taking her epilepsy medications. The RNS System recorded seizure activity soon after she took her medications. Michael’s data showed that when he engaged in intense exercise, he often experienced a seizure an hour or two later.

Managing triggers to reduce seizures

The NeuroPace RNS System can help people living with epilepsy control seizures — sometimes eliminating them completely*, at other times reducing their frequency or intensity. By identifying seizure triggers, people living with the RNS System have additional information that can help them manage their epilepsy.

If they can’t avoid triggers, they can at least prepare for the possibility of a seizure. Ideally, they can make changes to their daily lives to reduce or eliminate exposure to seizure triggers.

Those steps could include getting more sleep, engaging in stress relief, and changing diet. Heather no longer drinks orange juice, for example. Michael stays active but has reduced the intensity of his exercise. Both have experienced fewer seizures since doing so, improving their quality of life.

“I feel safe because my RNS System is always watching my brain waves,” says Tammey, a registered nurse who has learned more about her seizure triggers through the RNS System. “I’ve gotten my independence and self-confidence back and I’m working on restarting my list of life goals.”

*Every person’s seizures are different and individual results will vary

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