Actor Cameron Boyce, who rose to fame on the Disney Channel, died in his sleep on Saturday after suffering from a seizure due to “an ongoing medical condition”. His family recently confirmed the condition that caused the 20-year-old star’s death was epilepsy.
Boyce was best known for his role as Cruella de Vil’s teenage son in the Descendants TV movies, and as Luke Ross on Jessie. He also starred alongside Adam Sandler and Salma Hayek in Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2. The actor had just wrapped production on Descendants 3, which is slated to premiere in August.
Boyce’s untimely death sent shockwaves through social media and fans all around the world.
Many fans were stunned to learn that star was suffering from a seizure disorder. The untimely passing is bringing attention to a condition – epilepsy – that affects 1 in 26 Americans.
An estimated 3.4 million people in the U.S. are living with epilepsy – including half a million children. Each year, about 1 in 1,000 people (1%) with epilepsy suddenly die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That rare phenomenon is known as “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy,” or SUDEP.
Neurologist Dr. Suzette LaRoche, an epilepsy specialist at HCA Healthcare affiliate Mission Health, sheds light on the neurological disorder that reportedly led to Boyce’ tragic passing.
“Researchers are still working to understand SUDEP,” said Dr. LaRoche. “We know that the majority of these cases occur during sleep. It can happen to anyone but people with uncontrolled Grand Mal seizures are at highest risk, especially if the seizures occur at night.”
“People usually don’t die from seizures,” Dr. LaRoche added. “However, it is important that people and families living with epilepsy are aware of the possibility of SUDEP”
There are things people with epilepsy can do to reduce their risk like avoid sleeping on their stomach, if possible, and taking seizure medication as described. Dr. LaRoche also shared how new technologies available like seizures watches can help alert caregivers of seizures at night.
Dr. LaRoche shares more on one of the oldest medical conditions in the world below.
What is a seizure?
A seizure is described as a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. It usually affects how a person appears or acts for a short amount of time. People typically think of a grand mal seizure, the most common form of a seizure characterized by stiff, rhythmic shaking, falling and loss of consciousness.
However, there are other types of seizures that are more subtle. Sometimes people may have a blank stare, are unable to speak or hear, act unusual or display strange or repetitive hand movements. Although less life-threatening than a grand mal seizure, these more subtle seizures can still significantly impact one’s life.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. A person is diagnosed with the disorder when they have had more than one seizure or has recurring seizures. Many people might have a one-time seizure due to high fever, poorly managed blood sugar (diabetics) or drug or alcohol abuse, for example. These single episodes associated with a known cause are not diagnosed as epilepsy. If an individual has seizures that occur frequently without an immediate cause that is diagnosed as epilepsy.
What causes epilepsy?
The cause is unknown for more than 60% of epilepsy cases. Seizures, the main symptom of the disorder, can be caused by anything from head trauma to a stroke to a brain tumor. It can sometimes be associated with developmental disorders such as autism or infectious diseases like meningitis. Often there is no identifiable cause. Seizures that present during childhood often have a genetic cause.
Is epilepsy genetic?
About 30 to 40% of epilepsy is caused by a genetic predisposition. The majority of those people do not directly inherit it from their mother or father. It is usually a gene that’s somewhere in the family tree – an aunt or cousin, or another distant relative.
What are the warning signs?
Seizures are very unpredictable. Some people can feel when one is about to come on while others have no idea. A focal seizure starts small in one part of the brain and can intensify into a grand mal seizure with little or no warning signs. When someone can feel a seizure coming on, they usually feel a sensation about 20 to 30 seconds in advance.
Is epilepsy treatable?
Fortunately, medication effectively manages seizures in most people with epilepsy. According to Dr. LaRoche, a wide range of anti-seizure medications have become available over the past 10 years. She says that about two-thirds of people with epilepsy will be seizure-free with the right medication. As long as medication is taken as prescribed, individuals with epilepsy can have normal, healthy lives, she added.
There are other options available to the one-third of patients for whom medications don’t work. These include surgery, neurostimulation therapy, and a ketogenic, or keto, diet.
How can people help those with epilepsy during a seizure?
Dr. LaRoche noted three important things to remember if someone is experiencing a seizure.
- Despite what you may have seen on TV, people should never put something in the mouth of someone having a seizure.
- Roll the person onto his or her side. This will help prevent choking.
- If the seizure goes on for longer than a minute or two, call 911.
Dr. LaRoche also dispels seven myths about epilepsy on the Mission Health blog here.
Mission Health, an operating division of HCA Healthcare, is based in Asheville, North Carolina and is the state’s sixth largest health system. The Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at Mission Hospital is a Level 3 Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, while Angel Medical Center, part of the Mission Health family, is equipped with a seizure clinic. In 2018, Mission Health was named one of the nation’s Top 15 Health Systems by IBM Watson Health (formerly Truven Health Analytics) for the sixth time in the past seven years