Purpose: Previous studies of patient-reported seizure precipitants have not evaluated whether different epilepsy syndromes are differentially affected.
Methods: Patients of a tertiary-care epilepsy center were consecutively surveyed with the use of a standardized questionnaire that lists precipitants that might trigger or exacerbate seizures (alcohol, caffeine, fasting, fatigue, fever or illness, flashing lights, heat or humidity, menstrual cycle, sleep, sleep deprivation, emotional stress, unknown, or other). Patients were classified into epilepsy syndromes according to International League Against Epilepsy criteria. Age and gender within groups defined by major precipitants were compared. Pearson's correlation was performed to evaluate common patterns of precipitants.
Results: Of 400 patients, 62% cited at least one precipitant. In order of frequency, stress (30%), sleep deprivation (18%), sleep (14%), fever or illness (14%), and fatigue (13%) were noted by at least 10% of patients. Stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation positively correlated, but sleep tended to negatively correlate with other major precipitants. Rankings of precipitants varied within epilepsy syndromes, with patients with temporal lobe epilepsy citing sleep infrequently compared with patients with other epilepsy syndromes. Menstrual effects were ranked highly within major precipitants among women over age 12 and were especially noted by women with temporal lobe epilepsy (28%).
Conclusions: Most patients with epilepsy identify a precipitant that triggers or exacerbates seizures. The high correlation of stress, sleep deprivation, and fatigue suggests that they act through common mechanisms to worsen seizure control. Through identification of the effect of both endogenous and exogenous precipitants among syndromes, more research and counseling can be directed to specific precipitants.