Jan. 20, 2009 -- Sen. Ted Kennedy, who began treatment last year for brain cancer, was hospitalized after he had a seizure today at an inaugural luncheon in Washington, D.C. Paramedics called to the scene transported him to Washington Hospital Center, where he was said to be alert and doing well.
"Senator Edward Kennedy experienced a seizure today while attending a luncheon for President Barack Obama in the U.S. Capitol," Edward Aulisi, MD, chairman of neurosurgery at Washington Hospital Center, said in a statement. "After testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue. Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well. He will remain at the Washington Hospital Center overnight for observation, and will be released in the morning."
At the luncheon, Obama called Kennedy a "warrior for justice" and said his prayers are with Kennedy and his family.
In May 2008, Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant glioma, a type of brain cancer. Kennedy had brain surgery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., in June 2008. At the time, Kennedy's doctors said that surgery was "successful" and that Kennedy would get radiation therapy and chemotherapy at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Seizures are not uncommon in brain tumor patients with a history of seizures, notes Orrin Devinsky, MD, professor of neurology and director of the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University's Langone Medical Center.
Such a seizure "could result from a portion of brain tumor that could not be removed, scar tissue from the surgery, regrowth of the tumor, [spontaneous] drops in his medication level," sleep deprivation, or stress, says Devinsky, adding that the stress could have come from a happy event, such as the inauguration. "He may have been truly very emotional and positively excited in a good way, but nevertheless it could still be a stressor on an individual," says Devinsky.
Devinsky, who is not treating Kennedy, says at a hospital, doctors would likely check Kennedy's medication level and perhaps order a new brain scan, unless Kennedy had recently had a brain scan and didn't need a new one.
Kennedy may also get his medication changed. "The fact that there's been a breakthrough seizure may be an indicator that he needs more medication, or conceivably the medication he's currently on may not be the most effective one for his specific case, but without knowing the details, it's really hard to say," Devinsky says.
"With brain tumors, sometimes the seizures are really hard to control," Cynthia Harden, MD, professor of neurology and director of the epilepsy center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, tells WebMD.
Harden points out that among epilepsy patients who don't have brain tumors, "a large percentage of those patients do really well," but that it can be harder to control seizures in brain tumor patients, who are "generally at higher risk for seizure recurrence, even on medicine."