Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes unprovoked, recurrent seizures. Musicogenic epilepsy is an extremely rare type of epilepsy triggered by music.

Musicogenic epilepsy is a condition that involves seizures — sudden bursts of electrical activity in your brain that can cause symptoms such as loss of consciousness and uncontrollable muscle jerking.

This type of epilepsy is estimated to affect 1 in 10 million people. It’s been reported in professional musicians and people with no background in music.

Because musicogenic epilepsy is so rare, medical experts don’t know much about it. It seems to occur most often when people are listening to music but has also been reported in people who are playing music. The type of music that triggers seizures seems to vary from person to person.

Read on to learn more about this rare type of epilepsy, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Most of what’s known about musicogenic epilepsy comes from small studies in which researchers analyzed one person or a small number of people with this specific type of epilepsy. The main symptom is sudden seizures that occur while listening to or playing music.

The seizures that occur in musicogenic epilepsy are usually complex focal seizures. This means they are isolated to one side of the brain and cause impairments in consciousness.

Musicogenic seizure symptoms reported in case studies include:

One study written in Spanish reported that some people experienced seizures accompanied by pleasant feelings.

Two case studies

In a 2023 study, researchers reported two cases of people with musicogenic seizures.

The first person was a 30-year-old woman with a history of type 1 diabetes. She experienced seizures that lasted up to 1 minute when listening to music that she liked. She reported the following symptoms:

The second person was a 40-year-old woman with type 1 diabetes who had an average of 3 seizures per day. Her seizures lasted up to 1 minute. She reported:

  • feeling like time expanded during her seizures
  • an inability to speak during her seizures
  • an ability to continue her current activity during a seizure
  • an inability to recall names of everyday objects for up to 30 minutes (anomia)

Her seizures were triggered by contemporary hit radio songs.

Musicogenic epilepsy is triggered by musical stimuli, especially listening to songs that provoke a strong emotional response. It has also been triggered by playing music or even dreaming of music. People have reported that specific lines in songs or the repertoires of certain composers triggered their seizures.

Often, seizures develop with no known underlying cause. Some cases of musicogenic epilepsy have been linked to:

  • focal cortical dysplasia, which involves areas of atypical brain development
  • autoimmune encephalitis, a condition in which the immune system attacks brain tissue
  • brain tumors
  • gliosis, a type of scarring in the brain

Musicogenic epilepsy has been linked to activity in the temporal lobe on the non-dominant side of the brain.

Musicogenic epilepsy seems to be slightly more common in women and is most often diagnosed in people in their late 20s.

It seems that musicogenic epilepsy tends to develop in musicians or people with an interest in music, possibly because music provokes a stronger emotional response in them.

Musicogenic epilepsy is extremely rare. It’s estimated to affect 1 in 10 million people.

Some people with musicogenic epilepsy have seizures when they listen to music they like. This may reduce the quality of life of people who are passionate about music.

Additionally, loss of consciousness during seizures can put you at risk of injury if you collapse.

It’s important to contact a doctor if you have a seizure for the first time or notice a change in your symptoms. Also, if you’re currently taking medication and you develop side effects, it’s important to speak with your doctor.

Doctors usually use a test called an electroencephalogram (EEG) to diagnose epilepsy. This test involves putting electrodes on your head that help doctors identify abnormalities in the electrical information of your brain.

Your doctor may also order other types of brain imaging scans, such as:

Like other types of epilepsy, musicogenic epilepsy is usually treated with anticonvulsant medications.

Medications that have been used in research include:

Surgery is sometimes used to treat musicogenic epilepsy that doesn’t respond to medications.

In a 2022 case study, researchers successfully treated a 37-year-old woman with laser ablation, which involves using a laser to destroy brain tissue.

Learn more about medications for epilepsy.

If somebody around you is having a seizure, you can help them by:

  • staying with them until their seizure is over
  • comforting them
  • checking for a medical bracelet
  • keeping other people around them calm
  • offering to get them home safely
Medical emergency

Seizures don’t always require medical attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends calling emergency medical services if somebody:

  • is having their first seizure
  • is having a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • has another seizure immediately afterward
  • has a seizure in water
  • is having a seizure and has a health condition such as heart disease or diabetes
  • is having a seizure and is pregnant

Very little is known about the long-term outlook for people with musicogenic epilepsy. Some people can manage the condition with medications or surgery.

Depending on your trigger, you may be able to avoid the type of music that causes your seizures. You may be able to tune out music by:

  • watching television
  • wearing noise-blocking headphones
  • avoiding areas where you might hear your musical trigger

Here are some frequently asked questions about musicogenic epilepsy and audiogenic seizures.

Can epilepsy be triggered by sound?

Yes. Epilepsy that’s triggered by stimulation of one of your senses is called reflex epilepsy. Seizures triggered by sound are called audiogenic seizures.

Why does music trigger seizures?

Researchers are still trying to understand why music can trigger seizures. Some think the cause may be linked to stimulation of structures in the brain that process emotion.

What are audiogenic seizures?

Audiogenic seizures are triggered by sound. This category includes seizures caused by musicogenic epilepsy and seizures triggered by other sounds.

Musicogenic epilepsy is extremely rare. It’s characterized by seizures that develop in the presence of musical triggers. The seizures are usually triggered by listening to a certain type of music.

Researchers are still trying to learn how to best manage musicogenic epilepsy. In some people, the condition seems to respond to anticonvulsant medications. Surgery has been an effective treatment for some people when the condition has not responded to medications.