Epilepsy & Royalty

Friday, May 15, 2020

This coming Monday is Victoria Day in Canada. Did you know that Queen Victoria had at least two descendants with epilepsy?

Her son, Prince Leopold (later, Duke of Albany) was Victoria’s youngest son who lived with both haemophilia and epilepsy. Born in 1853, he was known for his artistic and intellectual pursuits, including a great interest in chess. He attended Oxford University, where he became the president of the chess club, and was awarded an honorary degree in civil law. Along with a sister and brother-in-law, he toured Canada and the USA in 1880. He died in 1884 at age 31, after having married and fathered two children.

Prince John, who was Victoria’s great-grandson through her grandson King George V, unfortunately had a shorter and much more restricted life. Born in 1905, he developed epilepsy at age 4, and now is believed to have also possibly developed autism. He was sent to live in a house on the Sandringham estate with his nanny. Unlike his grand-uncle, Prince Leopold, Prince John’s schooling was curtailed at a young age, it being believed that by age 11 he had learned as much as he could.  Known as “The Imp”, he delighted in playing practical jokes like smearing door handles with glue and leaving upturned pins on chair seat cushions for the unwary. He would have been Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle, had he lived long enough.  Prince John was 14 years old when he died in 1919, following a severe seizure (possibly status epilepticus).

Status epilepticus refers to an episode where a seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes or when consecutive seizures happen so closely together that the person doesn’t have a chance to recover in between them. Status epilepticus with convulsions (tonic-clonic) can be life threatening and requires emergency hospital treatment as quickly as possible. Now would be the time to call 911!

Status epilepticus can also occur in people who have not been diagnosed with epilepsy or ever had a seizure before, due to alcohol or drug abuse, a stroke, or a head injury.

Non-convulsive episodes of status epilepticus can also occur. Individuals living with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome might experience repeated tonic seizures (where the body stiffens but doesn’t convulse) with little or no recovery time between the seizures.

To help reduce the chance of status epilepticus:

  • always take your medications regularly – missing doses or improperly terminating your meds are known common triggers for status epilepticus
  • limit your intake of alcohol
  • investigate whether you have specific triggers for seizures and avoid them as much as possible
  • maintain good diet control to keep blood sugar well regulated
  • work with your medical care providers to ensure you have the best possible control of your epilepsy in order to reduce your overall number of seizures in general
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