Epilepsy is defined as an interruption in the electrical activity in your brain that disrupts its normal function. This disruption causes seizures. A person is considered to have epilepsy if they have at least two unprovoked seizures occurring greater than 24 hours apart.
Most people don’t know why they have epilepsy, but understanding the causes and triggers of seizures can help you lessen the frequency and feel more in control.
Certain conditions can upset the electrical activity in the brain leading to and causing epileptic seizures. Common causes of seizures include:
- Head injury
- Atherosclerosis in the brain, which is hardening of the arteries
- Brain tumor or lesion
- Infection, such as meningitis or encephalitis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Withdrawal from alcohol or drugs
In some cases you may not be able to uncover the exact cause of seizures, or your anti-seizure or anti-epileptic medication may not prevent every seizure. It’s also important to find out what triggers your seizures as well as warning signs that you’re about to have one.
Common triggers for epilepsy include:
- Alcohol, drugs, and caffeine
- Poor sleep
- Very low blood sugar, particularly if you’re diabetic
- High levels of stress
Sometimes seizures are more likely to happen at a certain time of day, like at night while sleeping. Keeping a journal of your seizures is the best way to figure out your triggers. Note the time of day, what you were doing, how you felt, your sleep habits, and whether any common triggers were present.
You may also want to include notes on what you have eaten to see if any foods trigger seizures. Some people have found that a ketogenic diet, which is low in carbohydrates and high in fat, helps to control seizure activity.
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Seizure Warning Signs
Many people also experience what’s called an aura before having a seizure. This is basically your body’s warning signal that one is coming.
Some common warning signs of seizures include:
- Sensitivity to smells, sounds, or sights
- Visual changes, such as tunnel vision
Learning your triggers and warning signs can help you gain more control over your seizure activity. For more information on epilepsy and seizure management and treatment, visit the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery.