Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has been released from Washington Hospital Center a day after the 76-year-old political icon, who is being treated for a malignant brain tumor, suffered a seizure during a post-inauguration luncheon for President Obama.
Kennedy was chatting with his tablemates Tuesday at the luncheon on Capitol Hill when, according to fellow senators, he suddenly stopped speaking.
That's the same thing that happened during his earlier seizures — one in May that was the first sign of a malignant brain tumor and one last summer.
Kennedy's tumor was in an area of the brain that controls speech.
Experts say such seizures are common in patients who have suffered brain tumors. Surgery to remove such tumors, which Kennedy underwent last summer, also leaves patients prone to recurrent seizures.
Neurosurgeon Edward Aulisi, who treated the Massachusetts senator at Washington Hospital Center, concluded Tuesday that the incident "was brought on by simple fatigue," and had predicted that Kennedy would be released Wednesday morning after tests and overnight observation.
Kennedy's wife, Vicki, and son Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat from Rhode Island, were with him at the hospital, where he was rushed by ambulance.
Experts said one detail in particular is encouraging: Soon after arriving at the hospital, Kennedy was awake, talking with his wife and son, and "feeling well," according to doctors. More severe seizures are often followed by what doctors call a "post-ictal period" of confusion and drowsiness.
"Clearly, it's much better if the patient is alert and awake," says Dr. Keith Black, chief of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The Washington neurosurgeon's reference to "testing" was also encouraging to outside experts who were trying to interpret Kennedy's seizure.
It suggests that doctors must have determined there was no evidence on brain scans that Kennedy is suffering from an obvious regrowth of the brain tumor, called a glioblastoma, that caused his first seizure last May.
Experts say doctors certainly would have done tests to determine if the level of anti-seizure medications in his blood were too low. That could lead to a decision to increase the dosage or switch to a different medication.
But there's no indication, so far, that this caused Kennedy's seizure.
While it is possible that a seizure can signal the regrowth of the original tumor — a thought that surely crossed many people's minds — some experts caution against leaping to that conclusion.
Dr. Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, says that these days doctors will perform scans on patients with prior brain tumors every couple of months to check for early evidence of regrowth. So they're less likely to be surprised by a seizure as the first sign of a recurrence.
From NPR reports by Richard Knox and Joanne Silberner and The Associated Press.