Neurologist Dr. Michael Privitera talks to MTV News about what might be triggering Wayne’s condition.
As Lil Wayne continues his recuperation from seizures that sent him to the hospital on Friday, reportedly in critical condition, MTV News reached out to an expert to find out what might be causing Weezy’s latest health issues.
“People can start having seizures from first day of birth until you’re 90,” explained Dr. Michael Privitera, a professor and the director of the Epilepsy Center at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute. “A seizure can occur due to a variety of problems in the brain. It is an electrical disturbance in which all the neurons start firing abnormally in a very synchronous way.”
Privitera, who has not treated Wayne and has no first-hand knowledge of the rapper’s case, said that there are a number of reasons why a 30-year-old might suddenly develop an epileptic condition, including a genetic predisposition, or the effects of powerful prescription drugs like codeine.
“Some people have unrecognized structural abnormalities in their brain or a prior history of trauma that is enough to create an electrical disturbance,” Privitera said. “But I’d probably say that if you were [Wayne's age] and you were coming into my office with your first seizure, in half of those people you won’t find a reason.” Barring a family history, Privitera said there are also some other, “non-specific irritants” that can produce seizures. “Drugs and alcohol are traditionally the precipitators of seizures,” he said, noting that acute withdrawal from alcohol or severe intoxication could also bring them on, though that is less common.
Wayne was visited by Drake, Birdman and Nicki Minaj over the weekend while Young Money president Mack Maine blasted TMZ for writing stories suggesting that the MC was near death.
Initially, it was reported that Wayne was in critical condition after suffering seizures and had to have his stomach pumped when doctors found high amounts of codeine in his system. Weezy suffered a number of seizures back in October and later told MTV News correspondent Sway Calloway that he was on medication to treat his condition.
Wayne has also spoken in the past about his well-documented addiction to syrup, the name for a concoction of prescription-strength codeine cough medicine and a soft drink. Syrup has a long history in the Southern hip-hop community and is blamed in the deaths of both DJ Screw and late UGK member Pimp C.
The combination of a possible genetic predisposition and an addiction to syrup could be enough to set off seizures, according to Privitera. “Promethazine [one of the active ingredients in syrup] can trigger seizures in someone who is predisposed,” he said of the drug, which is found in combination with codeine in prescription-strength cough syrups. “It has a non-specific effect on the brain and there’s a complex interaction of chemicals in the brain that some of these drugs can interrupt.”
From what Wayne has said, it sounds like he’s on medication to treat the seizures, which Privitera said was good news. The problem, though, is that it’s hard to tell with someone like Weezy if it is the predisposition to seizures that is kicking in, or if the promethazine is helping to trigger them.