Smoking can increase the risk of seizures, especially if a person has epilepsy. Despite this, research indicates that many people living with epilepsy smoke.

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of preventable disease in the United States.

This article explores smoking and seizures in more detail, including the risks of smoking for people with epilepsy, the connection between vaping and seizures, and how nicotine causes seizures. It also offers tips for managing epilepsy and quitting smoking. Finally, it discusses when someone should consider seeing a healthcare professional.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 people without epilepsy smoked in the U.S. between 2010–2017. In comparison, 1 in 4 people, with either active or inactive epilepsy, smoked.

Researchers are not sure why people with epilepsy tend to smoke more than those without the condition. However, people with epilepsy, tend to have lower household incomes, higher levels of unemployment, and a reduced quality of life, all of which are risk factors for smoking according to the American Lung Association (ALA).

A 2022 study found that smoking was associated with high seizure frequency and anxiety symptoms in men with epilepsy. Furthermore, according to a 2019 study, people with epilepsy who smoke are 4 times more likely to have experienced seizures in the past year than those who do not.

When people with epilepsy smoke, they risk developing several preventable health conditions in addition to increasing their risk of seizures.

Additionally, the Epilepsy Foundation suggests that if a person has a seizure while smoking, they may burn themselves when they fall unconscious. The cigarette may also cause a fire.

At the moment, research exploring the link between vaping and seizures is ongoing. Thus, there are no reliable large-scale studies suggesting vaping can cause seizures.

However, there does appear to be a trend emerging that suggests vaping may increase seizure risk, in addition to other neurological symptoms, such as fainting and tremors. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received 127 reports of seizures and other neurological symptoms following electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use between 2010–2019.

A 2022 case study observed a person who had a seizure after each use of e-cigarettes on three separate occasions. One explanation the researchers gave is the person could have experienced nicotine poisoning when using the e-cigarette. This may be because e-cigarettes can contain high levels of nicotine.

There are nicotine receptors in several areas of the brain. Moreover, a characteristic of autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy is mutated nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. These receptors are located in the brain and throughout the body.

While autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy is a rare type of epilepsy, this genetic link suggests nicotinic receptors might also be involved with other types of seizures.

Researchers theorize that when someone inhales nicotine through an e-cigarette or vape, they may consume a toxic level of nicotine, which may alter how the nicotine receptors respond. Nicotine may increase excitability in the neurons, making it easier for a seizure to occur.

Some management strategies for people with epilepsy include:

  • learning more about the condition
  • taking seizure medications as prescribed
  • telling a doctor about taking any new supplements or medications
  • keeping a record of seizures and their possible triggers
  • getting enough sleep, at least 7–8 hours per day
  • eating a balanced diet and maintaining a moderate weight
  • exercising regularly
  • not using tobacco, alcohol, or other substances
  • practicing mindfulness to help manage stress
  • keeping a support network
  • using memory techniques to help with any memory problems

As smoking can increase the risk of seizures in people with epilepsy and cause a range of other health problems, quitting smoking can benefit a person’s health.

Some tips for stopping smoking include:

  • Making people aware: If they know, other people can support a person who is quitting smoking.
  • Removing triggers from the environment: Remove cigarettes and ashtrays from the home. Wash any clothes that smell of tobacco smoke.
  • Using distraction techniques: Paying attention to something else when a craving occurs can be a useful method to take the mind off smoking.
  • Using safe substitutes for cigarettes: Toothpicks and straws can be useful props to simulate smoking a cigarette, especially when a person is bored.
  • Using nicotine replacement therapy: If a person is still having strong cravings while using any form of replacement therapy, they should speak with a doctor to adjust the dose.

If a person wants to quit smoking, and they are finding it difficult, a healthcare professional can offer advice and support.

A person should call 911 if they are experiencing a seizure for the first time or when they are experiencing the following:

  • difficulty breathing or waking after the seizure
  • the seizure does not pass after 5 minutes
  • there are consecutive seizures
  • injury during the seizure
  • the seizure occurs while they are in the water

If someone has an underlying health condition, including heart disease, diabetes, or pregnancy, a person should also call 911.

Researchers have linked smoking to an increased risk of seizures in people with epilepsy.

Quitting smoking may help people with epilepsy manage their condition. A doctor can offer advice and support to individuals who want to quit smoking. They may recommend strategies, such as using distraction techniques and nicotine replacement therapy.