University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics researchers raising awareness about epilepsy following Disney actor's death

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - The recent death of a Disney star has researchers at the University of Iowa warning people about the risk of “SUDEP,” or Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy.

FILE - In this April 25, 2019, file photo, Cameron Boyce arrives at WE Day California at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Actor Cameron Boyce, known for his roles in the Disney Channel franchise “Descendants” and the Adam Sandler “Grown Ups” movies, died Saturday, July 6, 2019, at his home in Los Angeles, according to his spokesperson. He was 20. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

In July, Cameron Boyce, 20, died after suffering a seizure in his sleep.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics researchers say SUDEP is still a mystery because it often happens when people are alone. A person can stop breathing after a seizure. Part of their brain that recognizes what's happening doesn't trigger to help the person start breathing again.

It usually happens at night when a person is sleeping.

Originally, medical experts thought SUDEP was a heart-related issue, but University of Iowa researchers say it’s connected to breathing. Most people wake up when inhaling too much carbon dioxide in their sleep, but some people with epilepsy do not.

Researchers are looking into possible solutions. They're also working on a device to notify family if a person with epilepsy is in danger.

"Devices that people can wear when they're sleeping or all the time perhaps,” said Dr. George Richerson, the chairman of Neurology at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. “That warn family members that a patient just had a seizure."

Researchers say some diets, like the high-fat, low-carb Ketogenic diet can prevent breathing issues after a seizure because it releases chemicals that help with seizure control

Researchers suggest people with epilepsy can avoid seizures by always taking their medicine and not drinking high amounts of alcohol.