Common Seizure Triggers in Infants and Children

Common Seizure Triggers in Infants and Children

Whether your child has just had her first seizure or several, they are scary to watch and can seem catastrophic.

Seizures are caused by electrical changes in the brain and the resulting symptoms can vary widely from person to person – from subtle staring spells to full-body convulsions.

Parents have explained to me that when they occur at night, they don’t get much sleep because they’re worried about leaving their child alone. Similarly, during the day parents have mentioned that they won’t send their child to school until he has been seen by their doctor or an epilepsy specialist.

These are all normal, understandable reactions, but as parents’ minds tend to go to the worst case scenario, I try to help put their minds at ease when I see them in clinic. I inform them that while seizures can be very dangerous and at times lead to injury or death, these are very rare outcomes. In the vast majority of cases kids recover well from the seizure and in fact, many kids can “outgrow” epilepsy as they get older.

What Can Trigger A Seizure?

Everyone has a seizure threshold in their brain – meaning that anyone can have a seizure but some of us are more susceptible to them than others. When a child has epilepsy, his seizure threshold is much lower and will be more likely to have one when encountering a trigger.

There are many potential seizure triggers, but only a few we know about for sure. If parents are rigorous about keeping track of their child’s seizures and the circumstances surrounding them, we will be more likely to help them narrow down the trigger.

Some of the more common seizure triggers are:

  • Illness and fever
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Menstrual cycle in females
  • Drugs and alcohol (in excess, they can be a trigger for anyone, but for teens with epilepsy, they will be more likely to cause a seizure)

Seizures And Epilepsy

Parents often wonder if their child’s seizures will lead to epilepsy. We consider a child to have epilepsy when he has had two or more unprovoked seizures that occur at least 24 hours apart.

One of the important considerations when diagnosing epilepsy, and one in which we try to determine in our New Onset Seizure Clinic, is identifying any triggers to potentially help stop them from happening in the first place.

New Onset Seizure Clinic

In the New Onset Seizure Clinic, I try to help put parents’ minds at ease by explaining what happens during a seizure, helping to pinpoint the triggers, and explaining the potential outlook once we have established a diagnosis. While parents are understandably worried about their child, the ones who have been on this journey for a while tell me that it does get easier with time.

When To See An Epilepsy Specialist

If you are concerned that your child has had a seizure, it is important to schedule an appointment with an epilepsy specialist who can help you determine if there is a trigger. Once a child has had a seizure, his risk increases for having more. A child that has had one seizure has approximately a 45% risk of having a second one. If he has had two seizures, then the risk for a third seizure increases to 75%-80%.

If you have questions, or would like to request an appointment, please contact our Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.

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Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD

About the Author: Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD

Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD, is a pediatric epileptologist in the division of Neurology at Cincinnati Children’s. He is part of the New Onset Seizure clinic team and has a research interest in functional brain imaging as a way to understand seizure onset and spread.

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  1. elise June 25, 15:34
    My daughter had febrile seizures when she was 13 to 19 months, one being over 2 hours. She is now 8 and she had one march 20th. I was scared I thought we were done with those. Thank God she has not had another one and that we have CCHMC new seizure clinic 20 minutes from our house. They are great people that put you at ease.
  2. Amanda Brooks June 25, 18:01
    Seizures and epilepsy lead to early diagnosis of arthritis and tears your teeth up from grinding and clinching...I was 28 when I had open heart because of the construction every time I have seizure s ..Without meds I take over a 100 a day
  3. leila d December 31, 16:59
    My son started having seizures since he was 10 months old...he is now 20 years old. It does not get easier with time...he has so many is hard to have a normal life for the whole family.
    • Lori June 04, 18:51
      Totally agree with you. My son started having seizures at 15 mos. And is now 20 also. And yes there are many limitations.
  4. Wally January 13, 14:38
    I have had 3 seizures going on 4 years in June. from scar tissue left from brain surgery (NHL cancer) all test show I am cancer free. On new medicine Keppera & Dilantin, doctor says that should stop seizures. My question is will the scar tissue ever heal? Just looking for your thoughts. Thank You, Wally ( I am 72 years old. and in good health!!
    • Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD
      Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD Author January 14, 16:12
      Hi Wally, Scar tissue may reduce in size over time but that usually would happen shortly after the surgery. Typically it won't resolve completely and at this point it is unlikely for further changes to happen. Hope this helps!
  5. Sue Nowak January 14, 02:26
    I had my 1st and only grand mal seizure when I was just 10 months old. Had petit mal and eventually what they called partial complex seizures. I never grew out of them. In fact they got worse. I was able to get married and have two beautiful baby girls.The only way I could control it was through a Vegus Nerve Stimulator (1999) that was implanted in me. It worked for a couple years. Then the seizures were back and more sporadic. In 2011, at the age of 49, my Dr. performed a battery of tests to see if I would be eligible for brain surgery. I was! They only had to perform a WADA Test. When they did I stroked! After much time (9 months) and determination I decided to go through with the surgery. I had a partial lobotomy which turned out to be a success! No seizures! I can even drive now! I went to work in Nov. 2015, for the first time since before my stroke. Now I am 54 and seizure free. No, I didn't grow out of the seizures!
  6. Kiprijan June 02, 10:01
    We are from Macedonia,and my son (6 years old)first was diagnosed with Benign Rolandic Epilepsy,we have made eeg and MR scan,and after that other doctor state that he have cortex dysplasia or thickening of both parietal cortex. Here we have only pediatric neurologist but no pediatrician neurologist epileptologist. We would like to have another opinion,since my child still have seizures. Can I please send to you MRI scans,please help us! I look forward to your response,
    • Rachel Camper
      Rachel Camper June 06, 15:35
      Hi Kiprijan, Please contact our Comprehensive Epilepsy Center to see how we might be able to help your son. You can fill out a form to receive more information here: or call this number: 513-636-4222.
  7. bassgirl July 23, 21:15
    My 9 year old son has different types of seizures. He is on 2 seizure meds and his school still reports some type of seizure activity and I see it at home. He had a sudden onset at age 6 and 1/2 with regression. Before seizures he had made so much progress after being diagnosed mild to moderate Autism by the age of 2. He was in a regular Kindergarten class blending with regular kids. Seizures began in the beginning of 1st grade with regression. By 2nd grade I had to set up Home bound school instruction. I had to remove him from the public school system. He is now enrolled in a school for Autism. With the school for Autism and 2 seizure meds he is more stabilized and making some progress but still has some seizure activity nearly everyday.
  8. OkandVa April 04, 21:18
    Would this work for a child with Benign Rolandic Epilepsy too? I would be more than willing to travel for answers. I have a 7 yr old who has had eeg and MRI and not on medication.
    • Rachel Camper
      Rachel Camper April 05, 10:09
      OKandVa, Thanks for reaching out to us! Doctors in our Comprehensive Epilepsy Center have experience treating benign rolandic epilepsy, and would be happy to discuss diagnosis and management options for your child. They can be reached at 513-636-4222 or you can fill out an online request form: If you would prefer, I can have one of our nurses email you directly, simply let me know.
  9. Gwen May 18, 19:25
    My son is 24 , had a brain tumor removed and stroke at age 3. He did not have seizures for 19 years after surgery. He had a baclofen pump implanted and within months started having seizures and now goes into status epilepticus with every seizure. Could the baclofen pump have caused them to start ? Thanks so much Dr. Tenney.
    • Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD
      Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD Author May 22, 12:57
      Hi Gwen, I don’t know of any increased risk for seizures related to baclofen provided via an intrathecal pump. I took a look in the literature and found one report of 150 children with cerebral palsy that had a baclofen pump implanted and the authors looked for worsening of seizures. The authors stated that the baclofen does not seem to aggravate or induce seizures. Hope this helps!
  10. Mrlyn December 14, 14:12
    My son is 14months old and just had his first seizure. The doctor said that it was caused by a high fever along with an ear infection. What would be the chances of him getting a second seizure?
    • Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD
      Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD Author December 18, 10:20
      Hi Mryln, It is not uncommon for febrile seizures (seizures associated with high fever) to be recurrent in infants/toddlers. Having a febrile seizure does not significantly increase the chance to have an unprovoked seizure (not associated with any fever) as long as it was not prolonged (>30 min) or focal (jerking on only one side of the body).
  11. One_scared_mom November 06, 20:59
    We have a just turned seven year old daughter that has recently been diagnosed and so far isn’t responding well to medications (she’s definitely still uncontrolled). She’s having absence seizures throughout the day and has had several TC seizures (all first thing in the morning and so I’m assuming related to sleep issues or the sleep-wake time). There are so many scary parts of this condition and journey. How common is it for seizures to cross into “status”? How much of an increased risk of seizures does sickness bring? As we are entering the time of flu and stomach bugs, I’m really concerned about that. I know that rest and fluids are vital, but those are also compromised with illnesses.
    • Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD
      Jeffrey Tenney, MD, PhD Author November 11, 16:36
      Hi One_scared_mom, It is uncommon for seizures to become prolonged and become status epilepticus (>30 minutes). We usually provide patients with emergency seizure medication to administer at 5 minutes in order to prevent this from happening. This is especially uncommon for absence seizures. Illness and fever increase the risk for seizures to occur although there is not a good number as to how much the risk is increased. Our hope is that seizure medication helps to balance out this risk, but if someone has poorly controlled seizures, then there is an increased risk of seizures during illness.
  12. Lori December 12, 11:32
    My 10 month old suddenly began rolling his eyes back and stiffen last month, we noticed triggers caused by fear such as being in shopping carts, or being in parking lots. We learned that we were able to calm him and distract him and prevent it, he then began doing it in his sleep. 12 hr video EEG confirmed he had one seizure during a nap . from November 9 to the 27 he had episodes daily several times a day, November 23 he began doing it in his sleep. after the 27th until now, not one episode at all. He is scheduled for an MRI next week.
  13. Alissa S. January 24, 22:39
    Thank you so much! Very informative article. We are planning to transfer our sons care to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital soon from Indy with our 6yo son who has absence seizures and we look forward to meeting and working with you through. My husband and I did notice his triggers seemed to be chocolate, high sugar and carbs intake, foods/drinks artificial food coloring, inadequate sleep, and caffeine. We cut out most of those and the number of seizures dropped significantly! It was amazing really. I truly believe narrowing down triggers is so important.