Reflex Epilepsy

Patient/Family Story

It was only later that I realized he was sitting under a flickering fluorescent light when he had his first seizure. All three of his seizures have happened when there have been flashing or flickering lights. The last seizure was when they did the EEG with the flashing lights. Now we keep Dan away from any light flickers. Even driving through shaded areas where the sunlight filters down through the leaves and flickers—we just give him a pair of blue-tinted dark sunglasses, and he keeps his head down.

What are Reflex Epilepsies?

In reflex epilepsies, seizures are triggered by specific stimuli in the environment. In the most common type of reflex epilepsy, absence, myoclonic or tonic-clonic seizures are triggered by flashing lights. This is called “photosensitive epilepsy”, which usually begins in childhood and is often outgrown by adulthood. Other environmental triggers in reflex epilepsy include sounds such as church bells, a certain type of music or song, or a person’s voice. For some people, activities such as arithmetic, reading, writing, and even thinking about specific topics can provoke seizures. These non-visual stimuli may trigger generalized or partial-onset seizures. Some patients with a reflex epilepsy can have spontaneous seizures that occur without exposure to their specific trigger.

How are Reflex Epilepsies Treated?

A two-pronged approach is usually best: avoiding the triggering stimulus as much as possible, and treatment with antiepileptic drugs. Valproate, carbamazepine and clonazepam have been most commonly prescribed to control reflex seizures, though lamotrigine, levetiracetam and other newer AEDs are promising.