About 2.5 million people in the United States have epilepsy, a term that covers a spectrum of neurological disorders characterized by recurring seizures.
The seizures range from so mild they are hardly detectable to grand mal episodes in which muscles forcefully contract and the body goes rigid.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 27, 1998 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 2 Sports Desk 2 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Olympics--Florence Griffith Joyner, who died last month, was one of two women to have won four medals in track and field in the same Olympics. Fanny Blankers-Koen of Holland won the 100- and 200-meter sprints, the 80-meter hurdles and anchored the victorious 400 relay team in the 1948 Olympics in London. Griffith Joyner was identified as the only four-medal winner Friday.
Contrary to widespread belief, epilepsy is most often diagnosed in adulthood, with 70% of the 125,000 new cases each year involving people over 18, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of America.
The roots of the problem lie in disruptions of nerve function in the brain, and in most cases the reason is unknown. However, in 30% of cases a tumor, viral infection or other factor is identified as the trigger.
An expert on the disorder emphasized that it was "extraordinarily rare" for a person with a diagnosis of epilepsy to die of suffocation as a result of a seizure.
"This is a distinctly unusual complication of an epileptic seizure," said Dr. Michael Risinger, acting director of the Stanford Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.
Researchers are not certain exactly how the malformation, which can be inherited or arise during development, can induce epilepsy, he added. But the risk of seizures is increased when the vessel leaks blood, Risinger added.
Times medical writer Terry Monmaney and Times staff writers David Reyes and Mike Penner contributed to this story.