Can Stress Cause Seizures

Can Stress Cause Seizures? Understanding The Underlying Mechanisms

Comprehending the intricate characteristics of seizures, particularly their triggers, can pose a formidable task. Unexpected seizures may seriously interfere with the daily activities of people who have epilepsy.

One potential culprit lurking behind this unpredictability is stress. But how might stress provoke or trigger seizures? What is the connection buried within our intricate neural network? Join us on an investigative journey into what transpires when stress and seizures intersect and crucially, how we can reclaim control from these uninvited intruders.

Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways

  • Stress can cause seizures by altering the neurological activity in the brain, leading to irregular electrical signals.
  • A surge of emotions such as fear, worry, or stress increases the possibility of seizing for epileptics.
  • Stress can also affect the efficiency of epilepsy medication.
  • Evidence from scientific models and real-life examples reinforce the correlation between stress and seizures.
  • Some individuals might experience psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) initiated by emotional distress or trauma.
  • PNES differ from epileptic seizures and necessitate unique diagnostic and treatment strategies.
  • Panic attacks and PNES bear a link since both can be triggered by emotional stress, but they have distinct causes and treatments.
  • Incorporation of lifestyle changes like ample sleep, a balanced diet, regular exercise, adopting relaxation techniques, and seeking social support can alleviate the chances of stress-induced seizures.

Delving into Stress and Seizures: Decoding the Connection

Connection Between Stress and Seizures
Connection Between Stress and Seizures

A deep-seated association exists between stress and seizures. Stress can incite changes in your brain that may cause nerve cells to fire out of sync and at an accelerated rate—clinicians recognize this distorted activity as a seizure. This is why you may experience seizures during periods of high stress or even after such periods.

The heightened emotions from feeling stressed, anxious, or scared can also escalate your chances of seizing. For instance, dealing with significant life changes like moving to a new city or beginning a new job might enhance anxiety or fear than regular. This emotional surge could consequently lead to more seizures.

Moreover, stress can affect how effectively your epilepsy medication functions. A heightened state of stress can hinder the medication’s performance. However, bear in mind that everyone responds differently to stress; a trigger for one person may not have the same effect on another. Thus, it becomes exceedingly crucial to identify and address any worry and tension before they accumulate.

Can Stress Trigger Seizures?

Yes, stress can trigger seizures in specific individuals. Both experimental models and real-world examples offer evidence supporting this connection.

Real-Life Instances

People with epilepsy have shared numerous anecdotal accounts of stress-induced seizures. These accounts range from a woman who had a seizure following a sudden argument with a florist while planning her wedding to a man who had a seizure when the stress from looming work deadlines overwhelmed him. All these instances shed light on the fact that stress in our day-to-day lives can indeed trigger seizures.

Evidence from Experimental Models

Various tests with models help us understand more about seizures. These tests reveal that factors like lack of sleep, excessive alcohol, and changes in women’s cycles can precipitate seizures. Additionally, these models suggest that worry and fear might provoke a seizure.

Testing also shows that a person feeling angry or upset may be more likely to have a seizure. However, there is significantly more to unravel about why stress might trigger a seizure.

Understanding Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES)

Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES) are a unique type of seizure- rather than being caused by irregular electrical activity in the brain like epileptic seizures, they are elicited by psychological factors.

PNES can be sparked by emotional turmoil or trauma, but often they are misdiagnosed due to their resemblance with epileptic seizures. However, with a proper understanding and treatment plan, individuals can learn to manage PNES symptoms and enhance their overall quality of life.

Symptoms of PNES

Common signs of this condition include:

  1. Falling without getting injured
  2. Impaired speech or movement
  3. Jerky shaking of the body
  4. Unable to open closed eyes
  5. Making uncommon movements (like swimming/biking)
  6. Having no memory of the seizure post the episode
  7. Feeling extremely fatigued after a seizure
  8. Feeling fear, worry, or confusion before a seizure starts

Diagnosis and Treatment of PNES

Here are steps involved in the diagnosis and possible treatment modalities in the case of PNES:


  • Medical history: Your symptoms, medication history, and previous seizure episodes will be recorded.
  • Physical examination: Comprehensive physical examination will be executed to rule out other potential health issues.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): Measures brain’s electrical activity, helping ascertain whether the seizures are epilepsy-related or triggered by PNES.
  • Video monitoring: Doctors may require you to stay in a hospital for video monitoring, which would enable them to analyze and record seizures for further study.


  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help identify and address the underlying psychological issues contributing to PNES. It aims to improve coping mechanisms and reduce stress levels.
  • Medication management: While there is no specific medication for PNES, doctors may prescribe certain drugs to manage coexisting conditions like anxiety or depression.
  • Education and support: Gathering knowledge about PNES and reaching out to support groups can provide valuable insight into managing the condition.

The Role of Panic Attacks in Seizures

Panic attacks and seizures bear a striking resemblance, which often leads to diagnostic confusion due to their similar symptoms. Nonetheless, they have different causes and treatments.

Understanding the role played by panic attacks in seizures aids in distinguishing diagnostic and treatment processes for individuals undergoing these episodes.

Difference Between Panic Attacks and PNES

Panic AttacksPNES
CharacteristicsCharacterized by episodes of intense fear or apprehension that usually occur without a clear trigger; associated with a variety of physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations and dizziness.These are episodes that resemble epileptic seizures, but they have a different neurological origin. These are believed to be triggered by emotional stress.
Associated Disorders and TreatmentsPanic attacks are diagnostic features of panic disorder but can occur in the context of other anxiety disorders as well. Treatment typically comprises cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques and often medications, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).PNES is not epilepsy but a physical manifestation of psychological distress. They’re often linked to trauma or mental health conditions like depression. Their treatment generally involves addressing the contributing psychological problems, often through therapy or counseling.

Although the two are distinct conditions, a common thread binds panic attacks and PNES—stress. Thus, effective management of stress becomes crucial to minimize the risk of both conditions.

Reducing the Risk of Stress-induced Seizures: Guidelines and Tips

Can Stress Trigger Seizures
Can Stress Trigger Seizures

Reducing the risk of stress-induced seizures can be achieved through lifestyle adjustments and medical interventions.

Lifestyle Changes

Here are some changes to look for to manage stress and seizures:

  1. Get enough sleep: Adequate sleep is critical for individuals prone to seizures; strive for about 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
  2. Maintain a healthy diet: Consume a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins. Avoid excessive intake of caffeine or alcohol, which can precipitate seizures.
  3. Exercise regularly: Exercise is known to reduce stress levels and enhance overall wellbeing. Opt for activities you enjoy, such as a leisurely walk or gardening. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, most days of the week.
  4. Adopt stress-reduction techniques: Breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or tai chi can significantly lower stress levels and promote relaxation.
  5. Practice self-care: Invest time in activities that help you unwind and relax. They could be anything from reading or soaking in a warm bath to listening to calming music.
  6. Seek social support: Reach out to friends, family, or join support groups. Exchanging stories and experiences can provide immense emotional support and aid in managing stress.
  7. Establish a routine: Create a stable routine that includes regular meals, exercise, rest, and relaxation time. This can provide a sense of security and ward off ambivalent feelings.

Medical Interventions

Here are some helpful medical interventions:

  • Prescription Medications: Certain medications such as Klonopin, Neurontin, and Sabril might be prescribed to prevent seizures in individuals living with epilepsy. They function by reducing irregular electrical activity in the brain.
  • Psychotherapy: For individuals with PNES triggered by emotional stress, psychotherapy can be beneficial. This form of therapy aids in managing their emotions, thereby reducing seizure frequency.
  • Lifestyle Changes and Supportive Care: Along with supervision from healthcare professionals, managing stress and making healthy lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of seizures.

The Bottom Line

Stress can indeed trigger seizures in individuals with epilepsy. The underlying mechanisms linking the two are complex, involving changes in the brain’s activity and excitability. By managing stress levels through lifestyle changes, stress reduction techniques, and proper medication adherence, the risk of stress-induced seizures can be minimized.

For individuals living with epilepsy, it is crucially important to collaborate with healthcare professionals closely and devise personalized strategies to manage seizures.


  1. Can stress indeed cause seizures?
    Yes, for individuals with epilepsy, heightened stress levels can trigger seizures.
  2. What is the link between stress and epilepsy?
    Research suggests that, in individuals already predisposed to epilepsy, chronic stress might change brain activity, leading to seizures.
  3. Can stress lead to different types of seizures?
    Yes, stress can trigger different types of seizures, including absence seizures or grand mal seizures, in individuals with epilepsy.
  4. How can I manage my stress if I’m susceptible to seizures?
    You can manage seizures by taking prescribed epilepsy medicine, avoiding known triggers like sleep deprivation, engaging in physical activity, and using stress reduction techniques.
  5. Is there treatment available to reduce the chances of seizure occurrence due to stress?
    Yes, a combination of epilepsy medication and mental health care has shown promise in treating non-epileptic seizures triggered by emotional stress.

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