July 10, 2019 — Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce died from a seizure Saturday at age 20. On Tuesday, his family released a statement that the actor had been treated for epilepsy, ABC News reports.

“Cameron’s tragic passing was due to a seizure as a result of an ongoing medical condition, and that condition was epilepsy,” the statement said. “We are still trying to navigate our way through this extremely heart wrenching time, and continue to ask for privacy so that the family, and all who knew and loved him, can grieve his loss and make arrangements for his funeral — which in and of itself, is agonizing.”

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder, the hallmark of which is unprovoked seizures. It affects people of all ages, though it’s more common among young children and older people. Death from epilepsy is rare. The leading cause of death among people with uncontrolled epilepsy, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, or SUDEP, kills 1 in 1,000 people who have the disorder.

Scientists don’t know the exact cause of SUDEP. The victim is often found in bed, lying facedown. It may not be clear that the person has had a seizure — there are signs, or a witness, only about one-third of the time. But researchers have identified possible factors:

  • Breathing problems: During a seizure, a person may have pauses in breathing, which can become life-threatening if they go on too long. Or a convulsive seizure may lead to an obstructed airway, which leads to suffocation.
  • Heart rhythm: Rarely, a seizure may cause a dangerous heart rhythm or cardiac arrest.
  • Mixed causes: SUDEP may happen when breathing problems and an abnormal heart rhythm coincide, or from other, undiscovered causes.

One thing experts do know: SUDEP is most common in people who have uncontrolled epilepsy. People who have three or more convulsive seizures per year (what most of us picture when we think of a seizure) are 15 times more likely to die of SUDEP. Other things that can make it more likely are:

  • Missed doses of medication, or not taking medication as prescribed
  • Stopping or changing medication suddenly
  • Being between the ages of 20 and 40
  • Having an intellectual disability, with an IQ under 70

If you have epilepsy, controlling the number of seizures you have will cut your risk of SUDEP:

  • Always take your seizure medication as prescribed.
  • If you’re still having seizures, speak with your medical team.

If you’re aware of any seizure triggers, take care to avoid them.

Sources

ABC News: “Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce suffered from epilepsy, family says.”

Epilepsy Foundation: “What Is Epilepsy?” “Who Gets Epilepsy?” “SUDEP,” “SUDEP FAQ.”

CDC: “Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP).”

American Academy of Neurology: “Practice Guideline: Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Incidence Rates and Risk Factors.”

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.