5 Things You Should Know About Epilepsy

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Actress Skye McCole Bartusiak, best known for her role as Mel Gibson’s daughter in the 2000 film The Patriot, was found dead in Houston on Saturday at age 21.

Investigators haven’t determined a cause of death, but her mother Helen McCole Bartusiak told CNN that her daughter suffered from epileptic seizures recently. Bartusiak said Skye had seizures since she was a baby but the seizures stopped for a few years until returning last week. Her boyfriend found her sitting in bed in the garage apartment adjacent to her parents’ home. “We think she had a seizure and choked and nobody was there,” Bartusiak said.

Bartusiak said she performed CPR on her daughter before paramedics arrived. “They were working on her for 45 minutes and could not get a heartbeat,” she said. “I’ve done CPR on that kid more than one time and it just didn’t work this time.”

Seizures occur when nerve cells in the brain send abnormal signals, which can cause strange sensations or behaviors that last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Epilepsy is disorder in which people have recurring seizures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 2.3 million adults and nearly 470,000 children in the U.S. have epilepsy. Here are five other things you might not know about epilepsy.

Not all seizures involve convulsions

Three common types of seizures include absence or petit mal, characterized by rapid blinking or staring into space; complex partial, where the person may appear confused and unable to respond to questions; and tonic-clonic or grand mal, where they could lose consciousness, fall to the ground, and experience stiffening of the body as well as jerking of the arms and legs.

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You can have a seizure without having epilepsy

Seizures can happen as the result of temporary medical problems like high fever, low blood sugar, withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, or immediately after suffering a concussion. But if a child is having a seizure for the first time, experts recommend getting emergency medical care. (The CDC says new cases of epilepsy are most common in children and older adults.)

An OTC drug could trigger seizures

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the active ingredient in medications like Benadryl called diphenhydramine could increase the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy. Other seizure triggers include missed antiepileptic medication, stress, menstruation, lead and carbon monoxide poisoning, drug overdoses, and sleep deprivation. People diagnosed with epilepsy should get adequate sleep and try to stay on a regular sleep schedule. And about half of women with epilepsy who are of childbearing age report an increase in seizures around the time of their monthly menstrual period.

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What to do if you witness a seizure

If a friend or a family member with epilepsy has a seizure, you should try to keep them safe until the seizure stops and they regain consciousness. For a tonic-clonic seizure, the CDC says to clear the area of anything hard or sharp, put something soft and flat under the person’s head, turn the person gently onto one side, and time the length of the seizure. Don’t try to hold them down or put anything in their mouth—it’s not true that a person having a seizure can swallow their tongue. You should call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes or the person has multiple seizures without regaining consciousness in between as this could be a life-threatening condition called status epilepticus. The CDC has more information on first aid for seizures.

The causes of epilepsy are usually unknown

Nearly two-thirds of all epilepsy cases have no single, identifiable cause. Known risk factors include having a history of cerebral palsy, brain infections like meningitis, stroke, traumatic head injuries, brain tumors, and neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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