(Newser) – Cameron Boyce suffered a fatal seizure and died in his sleep Saturday at age 20, and his family confirmed this week that the Disney Channel star had epilepsy. "Cameron’s tragic passing was due to a seizure as a result of an ongoing medical condition, and that condition was epilepsy," a family spokesperson told ABC News. An autopsy has been conducted, and the Los Angeles County coroner's office is awaiting results of other tests before determining a cause of death. But a doctor not involved in Boyce's care tells the New York Times Boyce was likely killed by SUDEP: sudden unexpected death in epilepsy. Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, says about one in 1,000 people with epilepsy die per year from SUDEP. It "actually takes more lives every year than sudden infant death syndrome does," another expert tells CNN.
About 70% of SUDEP cases occur during sleep; in most cases, the person is sleeping alone. As Devinsky explains, the brain sometimes temporarily shuts down during severe seizures, meaning the centers that control respiration are shut down, and seizures can also impair the arousal reflex, which typically causes people to struggle for air when their air supply is blocked. "If that happens when a person is sleeping, and sometimes the seizure causes the person to end up face down, then it’s a perfect storm," he says. But, he adds, many patients with epilepsy are not warned about this possibility. If they were, he says, they could take preventative steps. A Michigan dad whose daughter died at age 19 due to SUDEP tells ABC 12 the family had never heard of the condition, and hopes Boyce's death will bring more awareness to it. (Read more epilepsy stories.)