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Local Health Care

Loma Linda Doc Talks About Epilepsy; New Focus on the Affliction After Disney Star's Death

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Earlier this month, Disney star Cameron Boyce died of an epileptic seizure.  In the wake of his passing, we spoke to a Loma Linda University doctor about epilepsy and how to treat it.  KVCR's Benjamin Purper has more

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Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological diseases. The CDC estimates that over one percent of the population has epilepsy, which means that in California there would be over 4,000 people living with it.

Deaths, like that of Cameron Boyce, only occur in about one in a thousand people who have epilepsy every year.

Travis Losey is a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy. He runs the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at Loma Linda University.

Losey: “Yeah so we're a center that includes specialists from a variety of disciplines focused on the care of people with epilepsy. So both adult and child neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-radiologists, and also neuro-psychologists.”

According to Losey, epilepsy is an abnormal discharge of electrical activity in the brain. He says it can occur at any age, but that it’s most common among young children and seniors.

Losey: “Most commonly the first features begin in people who are older or infants, or young children. But they can begin at any age. In some people they're related to a brain injury that they've had in the past. In others it can be related to genetics so there can be no clear cause when seizures begin.”

Losey says seizures can happen even if the person doesn’t have epilepsy.

Losey: “So if there's another cause other than epilepsy, for example very low blood sugar, then the treatment would just be correcting the blood sugar. But for people with epilepsy whose seizures do not have a clear, immediate cause, the most common treatments would be medications. And medications fully control seizures in up to two thirds of people with epilepsy. But there are about a third of people with epilepsy where the seizures are difficult to control with medications. And for those patients, we have other types of treatment that can be effective, including surgery.” 

That surgery involves removing parts of the brain that cause seizures. It’s an operation they do frequently at Loma Linda.

Losey: “We also have newer devices which are actually small computers that can be implanted next to the brain that can detect and interrupt seizures. And those can be good options when seizures come from more than one part of the brain, or they come from a part of the brain that cannot be safely removed.”

Losey has some general tips for what to do if you see someone having a seizure. The first thing is to make sure the person is in as safe a position as possible.

Losey: “So the safest position is generally lying on the ground on a person's side. There's no need to hold a person down or to put anything in their mouth. Most seizures will stop on their own within two minutes. Two minutes can seem a very long time when you're with a person with a seizure so it can be helpful to time a seizure with a watch or another type of timer. If a seizure lasts for more than two minutes or a person suffers injuries during a seizure, that would be time to call 9-1-1.”

You can learn more about Loma Linda’s Epilepsy Center at lluh.org.