Provoked and reflex seizures: surprising or common?

Dorothée G A Kasteleijn-Nolst Trenité
Epilepsia 2012, 53 Suppl 4: 105-13
Most patients with epilepsy report that seizures are sometimes, or exclusively, provoked by general internal precipitants (such as stress, fatigue, fever, sleep, and menstrual cycle) and by external precipitants (such as excess alcohol, heat, bathing, eating, reading, and flashing lights). Some patients describe very exotic and precise triggers, like tooth brushing or listening to a particular melody. Nevertheless, the most commonly noticed seizure increasers by far are stress, lack of sleep, and fatigue. Recognized reflex seizure triggers are usually sensory and visual, such as television, discotheques, and video games. Visually evoked seizures comprise 5% of the total of 6% reflex seizures. The distinction between provocative and reflex factors and seizures seems artificial, and in many patients, maybe all, there is a combination of these. It seems plausible that all of the above-mentioned factors can misbalance the actual brain network; at times, accumulation of factors leads then to primary generalized, partial, or secondarily generalized seizures. If the provoking factors are too exotic, patients may be sent to the psychiatrist. Conversely, if the seizure-provoking fluctuating mechanisms include common habits and environmental factors, these may hardly be considered as provocative factors. Awareness of precipitating factors and its possible interactions might help us to unravel the pathophysiology of epilepsy and to change the notion that seizure occurrence is unpredictable. This article provides an overview of the epidemiology, classification, diagnosis, treatment, and especially similarities in the variety of provocative and reflex factors with resulting general hypotheses.

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