Cameron Boyce, who died at age 20 after suffering from a seizure, was previously diagnosed with epilepsy. Now, a doctor explains how the neurological disorder could have caused him to die so suddenly in his sleep.
UPDATE: (7/11/19, 12:33 PM ET) — While the final cause of death is still being determined, the LA coroner tells HollywoodLife, “Preliminary information suggests the death occurred under natural circumstances.”
ORIGINAL: Cameron Boyce‘s family confirmed on July 10 that his tragic death on July 6 was due to a seizure as a result of epilepsy. The Disney Channel star was just 20 when he died, but sadly, according to an expert on epilepsy, the disease doesn’t play favorites when it comes to the young — and in some cases, children can be at an even higher risk of having a fatal seizure.
Dr. Dawn Eliashiv, Professor, Co-Director, UCLA Seizure Disorder Center, told HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY that patients with epilepsy are at risk of a condition called sudden unexplained death in epilepsy or SUDEP. “Children with uncontrolled epilepsy have the highest risk of SUDEP,” explained Dr. Eliashiv, “but it can occur also in older patients. SUDEP can happen to anyone with Epilepsy but there is a much higher risk for patients that are not able to control their seizures with medication because the more seizures the more chances for SUDEP. “
According to the CDC there are 1.16 cases of SUDEP for every 1000 cases of epilepsy, meaning about 1 in every one thousand epilepsy patients die of SUDEP. However, Dr. Eliashiv emphasized to us that if someone has uncontrolled seizures “the rate goes way up.” Unfortunately, not everyone with epilepsy responds to medication and according to Dr.Eliashiv, it’s extremely important for those patients to seek other ways of controlling their seizures if they want to avoid SUDEP. “Only 70% of patients with epilepsy can be treated with medication and be seizure free,” Dr. Eliashiv told us. “For the other 30%, the risk of SUDEP goes way up so it’s very important for them to go to a specialized epilepsy center because the treatments that are available at those centers, like Neurostimulation or epilepsy surgery, can actually really decrease the risk of having this fatal complication because they reduce the number of seizures.”
Although epilepsy is not a disease that gets a lot of attention, according to Dr. Eliashiv, 3.4 million Americans have the neurological disorder and many of them are children. “About 150,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy every year in the United States. It appears in all ages and it has an equal distribution between men and women. It appears in children. Children and older adults are the fastest growing segment of the population for new cases of epilepsy but it can occur in any age.”
Seizures are not always fatal, but they can cause loss of oxygen and abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to death. “Either breathing abnormalities or a problem with the heart or a combination of both is what leads to death during a seizure,” Dr.Eliashiv told us. “I have been doing this for many years and every single case is devastating. I’ve seen a lot of young people have this. And most of those patients were patients with drug resistant epilepsy.”
In order for epilepsy patients to reduce their risk of SUDEP, Dr. Eliashiv recommends avoiding alcohol and getting plenty of rest. “People with epilepsy that drink alcohol have an increased risk of SUDEP and also people should be vigilant with their medications because when people forget their medications their risk goes up. Sleep deprivation and stress are also factors so getting enough sleep and limiting stress is important as well. And we also recommend that a patient’s family members be trained in seizure first aid.”
For more information on Epilepsy or to get help visit the National Epilepsy Foundation.