Can Stress Cause Seizures?

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You are probably familiar with stress. You encounter it in your day-to-day life. Whether dealing with a challenging course at school or handling a difficult family situation, stress's effects on your body can be physical and mental.

When stressed, you experience physiological symptoms like your heart rate quickening and your blood pressure rising. This is a normal response to stress, and your body returns to normal when the stressful event passes. However, when your body is exposed to prolonged periods of stress, you could develop certain medical conditions and worsen symptoms of some others.

It's not always clear what brings on seizures. While people with epilepsy, a neurological condition that causes recurrent and unprovoked seizures, are known to have seizures, some people have seizures that can't be linked to any medical conditions. There is ongoing research into how stress is linked with seizures. This article looks at what that link is and what that means for you if you are prone to seizures or are a caregiver to someone who is. 

The Connection Between Stress and Seizures 

A seizure is triggered by abnormal activity in the brain. It causes your body to respond with abnormal muscle movements and behaviors. You might also experience loss of consciousness or a loss of awareness.

Stress has been thought to play a role in triggering seizures, particularly in people with epilepsy. To better understand the connection between stress and seizures, you need to understand the different types of seizures and what triggers them.

Neurological Seizures 

Neurological seizures are caused by neurological conditions such as epilepsy. Epilepsy is a condition that is characterized by frequent and uncontrollable seizures.

It's not clear how stress and seizures are connected. One theory is that it causes certain hormones to be released into the brain, which could trigger seizures. In a 2013 survey on trigger factors of seizures in people with epilepsy, researchers found that 31.3% of the participants reported that emotional stress triggered their seizures.

Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES) 

It's not clear what causes PNES to occur. Some research indicated that they could be triggered by stress and anxiety. PNES is a conversion disorder. This means that it's a condition that causes emotional stress to cause physical symptoms.

It's not entirely understood how stress causes seizures to occur. It's also challenging to measure how much an increase in seizure stress can cause. This is partly because stress is highly individual, and everyone has varying thresholds for withstanding stressful events.

One theory is that stress can release certain hormones that can trigger seizures. When stressed, you are also more likely to have difficulty sleeping. Research shows that sleep deprivation can cause a seizure to happen. 

Complications of Stress and Seizures 

Stress can make living with conditions that trigger seizures, such as epilepsy, more challenging. Research shows that emotional stress can increase the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy.

Emotional stress is typically caused by events or people that have a deep connection with you. For instance, going through a breakup can cause emotional stress. Fear and anxiety are also forms of emotional stress linked explicitly to seizures. Chronic stress has also been shown to trigger seizures in people with epilepsy significantly. 

Diagnosis of Stress and Seizures 

When trying to diagnose the root cause of your seizures, your healthcare provider will thoroughly examine your medical and family history. They may also order brain imaging tests such as CT scans and MRIs. It's essential for any medication you are on to be disclosed to your doctor as a seizure could result from a severe side effect of certain medications. 

Treatment of Stress and Seizures 

Both PNES and epilepsy can be treated with medication and psychotherapy. A psychological condition brings on most cases of PNES. Identifying the psychological cause of the condition is the first step in helping to treat it.

Antiepileptic drugs such as Klonopin (clonazepam), Neurontin (gabapentin), and Sabirl (vigabatrin) are approved by the FDA for the prevention of seizures in people with epilepsy. These drugs may also be administered in severe cases of PNES.

Coping With Stress and Seizures 

While managing stress isn't guaranteed to stop seizures completely, it does follow that if stress can increase the frequency of seizures, eliminating stress and stress triggers can also decrease the frequency of seizures. Different people follow varying methods to cope with stress. What works great for you might not necessarily result in effective results for the next person. However, some universal techniques for dealing with stress include:

  • Journaling: Journaling helps you to stay on top of what's causing your stress and enables you to identify and understand your stress triggers. The first step to eliminating your stress triggers is being able to identify and understand them.
  • Get enough sleep: The average person needs at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. It's even more critical for a person prone to seizures to follow this rule of thumb, as sleep deprivation can cause seizures.
  • Practice meditation: There is a ton of research to show that meditation can help reduce stress levels. If you are new to meditation, you can start slow by taking five minutes each day to focus on your breathing and be in the moment.


Stress isn't a causative factor for seizures and medical conditions which cause seizures. However, there is an established connection between being stressed and experiencing an increased frequency of your seizures. While eliminating stress may not cure a seizure-related condition, it does help improve the daily functioning of a person living with it.

A Word From Verywell 

Stress is an often overlooked trigger for complications in many conditions, including epilepsy and other conditions which cause seizures. Seizures can significantly disrupt your daily functioning, but the good news is that they can be effectively managed with the proper diagnosis, medication, and healthy lifestyle changes.

It's essential to remember that stress isn't all bad. It's your body's natural response to external pressures and, in some instances, can be helpful, for example, in moments of emergency or danger. What's important is ensuring that you don't feel stressed for extended periods, as this can adversely affect your health. 

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.