Elton John health: Star ‘came close to dying’ after suffering from seizures – symptoms

Elton John tells Lorraine Kelly that he’s ‘in pain most of the time’

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Shooting to fame in the 70s, Elton John was thrown into the world of rock’n’roll. Whilst trying to handle fame, as well as all that came with it, Elton became heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol, something which soon nearly ended his career for good. The star started using drugs such as cocaine to make himself “break out of his shell,” especially after the release of his album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 1973. But soon, the effects of this unhealthy lifestyle led to an overdose.

Talking about this time in his life, Elton recalled: “I always said cocaine was the drug that made me open up. I could talk to people. But then it became the drug that closed me down.

“I was consumed by cocaine, booze, and who knows what else. I apparently never got the memo that the Me generation had ended.”

Even after suffering an overdose, Elton’s drug abuse did not slow down but in fact got even worse, as he started to suffer from epileptic fits.

“I came very close to dying. I’d have an epileptic seizure and turn blue and people would find me on the floor and put me to bed, and then 40 minutes later I’d be snorting another line,” Elton told the Today Show.

“I was a drug addict and self-absorbed. You know, I was having people die right, left and center around me, friends.

“And yet I didn’t stop the life that I had, which is the terrible thing about addiction. It’s that – you know, it’s that bad of a disease.”

Luckily for Elton, his drug and alcohol induced epilepsy appeared to get better soon after he got help for his addiction in 1990.

“I said those words, ‘I’ll get help,’ or, ‘I need help. I’ll get help,’” Elton continued.

“And my life turned around. Ridiculous for a human being to take 16 years to say, ‘I need help’.”

Looking back on his career, and the changes he has made to stay sober, the star still finds it remarkable that he did not die. Talking at an event for the Elton John AIDS Foundation he said: “By all rights I shouldn’t be here today. I should be dead – six foot under in a wooden box. Every day I wonder, how did I survive?’

Unfortunately however, some are not as lucky, with most individuals having to live with epilepsy for their entire lifetime.
The NHS explains that the condition affects the brain and causes individuals to experience frequent seizures.

Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works, causing multiple symptoms. When someone is experiencing a seizure, possible symptoms include the following:

  • Uncontrollable jerking and shaking, called a “fit”
  • Losing awareness and staring blankly into space
  • Becoming stiff
  • Strange sensations, such as a “rising” feeling in the tummy
  • Unusual smells or tastes
  • Tingling feeling in your arms or legs
  • Collapsing.

Dr Jayant Acharya, a neurologist and director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at Penn State Heralth explains: “If a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, separated by more than 24 hours, they are considered to have epilepsy.”

For those like Elton who suffer from epileptic seizures as a result of drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation and low blood sugar, a formal diagnosis is not normally given, but further medical examinations can be carried out to see if the seizures have been caused by another medical condition.

To test for epilepsy, medical professionals will use what is called an electroencephalogram (EEG). This simple non-invasive procedure measures electrical activity in the brain. Any sharp spikes in brain waves will show that the brain has undergone “physiological changes” that lead to seizures.

In most cases the NHS explains that it is unclear why individuals develop epilepsy, but it is possible it could be caused by genes or previous damage to the brain.

Around one in three people with epilepsy also have a family member with it. However, individuals who have previously had a stroke, brain tumour, severe head injury, drug abuse or alcohol misuse, brain infection or lack of oxygen during birth are at higher risk of developing the condition.

In order to manage the condition, medication is usually given. This helps individuals to have fewer seizures or stop having seizures completely. Medications known as anti-epileptic drugs are usually the main treatment.

However, a third of people with epilepsy don’t gain control of their seizures with medication alone. In these instances, surgery or following a ketogenic diet can be used to help stop seizures.

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