Can Stress Cause Seizures?


A seizure is defined as a sudden attack of illness – a convulsion, spasm, or collapse. It can result in behavioural changes, physical tremors, and abnormal movements due to an uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. Seizures can be initiated for a number of reasons – certain triggers including sleep deprivation and flashing lights are known effects. But, can stress cause seizures? Read on…

Understanding the Causes

When communication to the nerve cells in the brain is interrupted seizures may occur. Triggers include:

  • Infection leading to a high fever
  • A bleed into the brain
  • A stroke or brain tumour causing brain damage
  • Withdrawal of drugs or alcohol
  • Low blood sodium
  • Medications such as antidepressants that lower the seizure threshold
  • Non-epileptic seizures caused by stress

Defining Stress

Stress affects the majority of people and can be caused by financial problems, work issues, and emotional complications. It can alter the way you think and behave. And can cause problems with concentration and sleeping.

You may feel anxious and out of control – losing your temper or becoming irritable and weepy. Physical symptoms may include difficulty breathing, pain and dizziness.

Stress hormones encourage your heart, muscles and other organs to respond in challenging or threatening situations – and once this pressure has passed stress hormone levels return to normal. But if you’re constantly under stress these hormones stay in your body, and prolonging a stress response takes its toll both physically and emotionally.

Can stress cause a seizure? Research shows that anxiety-induced seizures can actually resemble epilepsy – and extreme emotional states can result in seizures caused by stress.

Stress and seizures are linked when people experience symptoms of an epileptic seizure but without any unusual activity in the brain. This non-epileptic seizure is most often caused by mental stress.

Non-Epileptic Seizures Explained

There are two types of non-epileptic seizures (NES) and these are:

Organic NES – these seizures relate to the body and include fainting and metabolic causes such as diabetes. The underlying cause is often found quickly and can be treated to prevent any further seizures from happening.

Psychogenic NES – these are the seizures that are caused emotionally or mentally, rather than physically. And they are categorised as:

  • Panic attacks which cause heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, and difficulty breathing. Loss of consciousness and convulsing may also occur
  • Dissociative seizures which happen unconsciously with no control are the most common type
  • Factitious seizures with some level of conscious control often accompanied by rare psychiatric conditions which need to be investigated
  • Pseudo-seizures are events that mimic epileptic seizures but aren’t associated with abnormal brain electrical activity, although they have similar features such as convulsions

Recording what happens during a seizure can be very helpful to your doctor. Combined with medical tests these details will help to rule out causes including epilepsy. Blood tests, brain scans, and an EEG which records the electrical activity of the brain – will determine if there are any changes in brain activity – and diagnose NES.

Doctor Analyzing Cat Scan

Epileptic Seizure Overview

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of convulsion, loss of consciousness, and sensory disturbance caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. A seizure is a single occurrence, but epilepsy is defined by two or more unprovoked seizures. It can result from brain damage, brain tumours, head injury, and heart attacks – and is also associated with a range of metabolic and developmental disorders.

Can stress cause epilepsy? In real terms, it’s epilepsy that causes stress – and the stress then causes more seizures. Stress and epilepsy may be related and stress seizures can sometimes contribute to the development of epilepsy, but it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Recent studies have shown that patients admitted to epilepsy units aren’t always suffering from epileptic seizures but from stress. This can come in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, anxiety, depression, and personality disorders.

The parts of the brain that regulate stress response are often involved in epilepsy. Living with epilepsy can have an impact on your life every day. It affects your mind and body and how you feel about yourself. Some symptoms of an epileptic seizure include jerking or contraction of muscles, staring, weakness and anxiety, and sometimes loss of consciousness. Triggers of epilepsy may take account of weather changes, exposure to certain smells, and stress itself.

Around the time an epileptic seizure occurs there may be an aura – a clear perception felt. This may be related to hearing, taste, smell, be visual, or a feeling of nausea accompanied by shivers.

Although there are several different types of epileptic seizure the most common are focal involving one area or side of the brain. There are two types of characterises as:

Focal impaired awareness where seizures last for one or two minutes and happen when the person is unconscious and unaware – sometimes after a focal aware seizure

Focal aware seizures which can last for a few seconds up to two minutes and the person is aware and awake while the seizure is happening

Seizure management courses are offered to people looking to understand epilepsy – in order to establish what is causing your seizures. And to review any treatment you may be having.

Managing Stress Levels

If stress is diagnosed as a trigger for your seizures there are things you can do to help manage it:

  • Join a stress management group for comfort and support
  • Socialise with family and friends
  • Stay active and also find time to relax through yoga or massage
  • Learn relaxation techniques – and about mindfulness
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • Seek professional counselling
  • Get a good night’s sleep and keep to a regular sleep pattern going to bed and getting up at the same time each day
Woman standing in doorway of bedroom

Sleep More Soundly

Difficulty sleeping is a familiar symptom of stress and mood issues. And sleep deprivation is a common seizure trigger. Stress relief products are wide-ranging. Look at:

  • Sleep-monitoring sensors with coaching programmes and active audio features
  • Devices and apps that let you manage your stress and improve your sleep
  • Touchpoints that alter the body’s stress response to restore calm
  • Cool mist humidifiers that help you breathe more easily
  • Sleep supplements containing amino acids that help to calm your mind
  • Meditation guides that teach practising mindfulness to help with stress

Lynda Ishida My job is to write but my hobby is to research the latest tech innovations, especially for health & wellness.