There are certain aspects of lifestyle that can bring on seizures. These are commonly called seizure triggers. Some people don’t have any specific triggers, while others can clearly identify what sets their seizures off. Recognising what your seizure triggers are can help reduce and avoid seizures occurring. It is good to keep a note of anything you think might upset your seizure control. Here is a list of the most common triggers:
Know your seizure triggers
- Forgetting to take prescribed seizure medication.
- Lack of sleep.
- Missing meals.
- Stress, excitement, emotional upset.
- Menstruation/hormonal changes.
- Illness or fever.
- Low seizure medication levels.
- Medications other than prescribed seizure medications.
- Flickering lights of computers, television, videos, etc.
- Excessive alcohol or drug use and subsequent withdrawal.
Taking medication is a big part of living with epilepsy and managing your own medications is a way of being more involved and in charge of your health. Anti-seizure medications (ASMs) are the main treatment for epilepsy. ASMs will only work if you take them regularly. ASMs can have many side effects such as drowsiness, headache, dizziness, poor memory and weight changes to name a few. Long-term use of some ASMs can also affect your bone health. If you are having side effects from your ASMs talk to your doctor or nurse about it. They may be able to change your medicine to something else that suits you better.
Tips for taking medication
- Take your ASMs every day, it’s really important.
- Get a pill box/organiser from your pharmacy or online.
- Set a reminder or alarm on your phone or watch.
- Make it part of your daily routine so it’s just like brushing your teeth!
- If you forget your ASMs, take them as soon as you remember. If you’re late by over six hours just take your evening tablet earlier than usual.
- Don’t take morning and evening tablets together.
- Take your ASMs even if you are feeling ill or are fasting for a test.
- Never suddenly stop taking your tablets – this can often just make your seizures worse.
- Carry a spare dose of ASMs with you in case you change plans. Avoid running out of tablets.
- In Ireland you can get your ASMs for free through either a medical card or the Long-Term Illness (LTI) Scheme
Sleep is really important and a lack of sleep can be a trigger for seizures. With a busy life that includes school, study, sports, friends and family it can be difficult to squeeze it all in and there isn’t time to get enough sleep. Also getting off to sleep can be difficult for teens due to changes in your body clock. Some ASMs can cause tiredness and you may feel more tired than your friends.
Tips for a good night's sleep
- Try sticking to a schedule of going to bed and waking at the same time every day. Eight hours a day are recommended.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and chocolate for at least six hours before bed. They can make you restless.
- Close down your computer, tablet or phone at least an hour before bed.
- Do something relaxing before bed like reading or listening to music.
- Regular exercise will help improve your sleep. Avoid exercising late at night; try doing it earlier in the day.
- Make your bedroom a calm place where you can chill out and relax.
- If you are planning a late night make sure you get enough sleep the next day.
- Keep naps less than an hour long.
- Avoid lie-ins or sleeping for more than two hours after your usual wake up time. It can mess up your body clock.
- Talk to your doctor/nurse if you feel your ASMs are making you tired.
Stress is an expected and unavoidable part of everyday life. It is our body’s reaction to physical and emotional demands. Too much stress is not good for us and it is also one of the most common triggers for seizures. It can impact on your sleep and trigger seizures that way too. Being a teenager is a stressful time and worrying about having seizures can sometimes make you more stressed. Stress can affect people in different ways and if not managed it can lead to anxiety and/or depression.
Tips on dealing with stress
- Avoid stressful situations where possible.
- Try to relax when you can.
- Eat well and sleep well.
- Try relaxation methods like deep breathing, mindfulness or yoga.
- Regular exercise can help reduce stress.
- Do things you enjoy and have some ‘me’ time.
- Look for help if you need it – talk to your doctor/nurse or to Epilepsy Ireland services.
- Your local hospital or community groups may have stress management classes or resources you can avail of.
- Beaumont Hospital has a website with many mindfulness and relaxation techniques. To learn more about these visit the Beaumont Hospital website.
- Talk to your epilepsy team – they may refer you to a psychologist to talk about stress and coping with epilepsy.
If you choose to drink it is important that you know how it can affect you and your seizures and how you can take necessary steps to drink safely and responsibly. The legal age to drink alcohol is 18 years old. Alcohol is a drug and it can interact with your medications. It may affect how well your medications work, and the medications may increase the effect the alcohol has on you. Being under the influence of alcohol can influence your judgement and you may not recognise a seizure warning or you may forget your tablets. If you choose not to drink it can be hard not to feel under pressure. Talking to someone other than your friends can help. If you decide to drink, it is advised that you should:
- Drink in moderation – no more than two units of alcohol per day. Know you limits.
- Avoid binge drinking. Binge drinking can seriously increase your risk of seizures.
- Never skip your medication before or after a night out. You will be more likely to have a seizure.
- Stay with people you trust and make sure someone knows what to do if you have a seizure
Studying, exams and college
Having a diagnosis of epilepsy should not be a barrier to getting an education or going to college. However some people with epilepsy can experience difficulties with learning due to problems with memory, speed of processing information, and concentration. If you are having frequent seizures it can affect your memory. Also some ASMs can affect memory and cause tiredness which can alter your ability to learn.
- Exams can be stressful and can increase the risk of seizures for some people. If you know that stress triggers your seizures, learn how you can reduce it (see the section on stress). Use relaxation techniques to help with stress.
- Get organised – use a diary/calendar to keep on track.
- Stay ahead; avoid late night cramming sessions.
- Get enough sleep.
- Get support for learning and exams if needed, such as extra time allowance or a separate exam room.
- See the State Examinations Commission website (www. examinations.ie) for more details.
- Talk to your doctor or nurse. They may refer you to see a psychologist or neuropsychologist to see what your strengths and difficulties are and where you may need some help. They will also give you some more advice and support.
- Choose a course that is right for you. Talk with your school career guidance counsellor. You may be eligible to apply for the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) programme as part of your CAO application. Speak to your teachers /lecturers and let them know about your epilepsy. Meet with the disability officer to see what support is there
Reasonable Accommodations at the Certificate Examinations (RACE)
As a Leaving or Junior Cert student you may be entitled to Reasonable Accommodations at the Certificate Examinations (RACE). If a person with a disability is prevented from accessing the service in the normal way, the person providing the service has a duty to do all that is reasonable to accommodate them in accessing it. The particular arrangements that need to be made are then called “reasonable accommodations." You can learn more about these by visiting the State Exams Commission website.