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Brooke Shields Suffers Seizure After Drinking Too Much Water

The actress says low sodium levels caused by overhydration triggered sudden attack that included blacking out, frothing at the mouth

spinner image Brooke Shields attends the 2023 Tribeca Ball
Sipa USA via AP

Brooke Shields is going public with details about a recent health scare she experienced the week before starting her one-woman show at New York’s Café Carlyle in September. The actress told Glamour that she had a “full-blown grand mal seizure” that she believes was caused by drinking too much water.

In an article published Nov. 1, Shields said she had been drinking a lot of water throughout the day and people started to tell her that it looked like something was wrong. Things started to not make sense. She said she walked to a corner for no apparent reason and thought to herself, “Why am I out here?” She then went inside L’Artusi, a Manhattan restaurant, and said others noticed something wasn’t right.

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“Everything starts to go black,” she said in the interview. “Then my hands drop to my side and I go headfirst into the wall.”

She said she started having a grand mal seizure, also know as a tonic-clonic seizure, which included “frothing at the mouth, totally blue, trying to swallow my tongue.”

She remembers being loaded into an ambulance and being given oxygen and said that fellow actor Bradley Cooper was holding her hand. Apparently, he happened to be close by and when he learned what happened, he hurried to the scene and rode in the ambulance with her.

Shields, who has not indicated that she has epilepsy, said she was admitted to the intensive care unit and put on a catheter and IV. She said doctors told her she had too much water and too little salt in her system.

“I flooded my system, and I drowned myself,” she told Glamour. “And if you don’t have enough sodium in your blood or urine or your body, you can have a seizure.”

Andreas Alexopoulos, M.D., an epilepsy specialist with the Cleveland Clinic, said although it is possible to have a seizure due to not having enough sodium, this is uncommon. Alexopoulus, who did not treat Shields, said that although having adequate hydration is very important — and it is more common for people over age 50 to be dehydrated than overhydrated — “if sodium is significantly low, that may in fact result in a seizure.”

What are seizures and how common are they?

A seizure occurs when many neurons send signals at the same time faster than normal, according to the National Institutes of Health. This surge of excessive electrical activity from nerve cells can cause involuntary movements, sensations, emotions and behaviors.

First seizures 

People can have a single seizure without having epilepsy. Although it can occur without any obvious triggering factors, certain conditions can provoke a seizure including:

  • Low or very high blood sugar
  • Changes in chemical levels in the blood (sodium, calcium, magnesium)
  • Eclampsia during or after pregnancy
  • Impaired function of the kidneys or liver

Source: National Institutes of Health

Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder in which the brain sometimes sends the wrong signals and causes seizures. Not everyone who has seizures has epilepsy. Some people, for example, may have only one seizure, but those with epilepsy have multiple seizures.

There are different types of seizures. In a grand mal seizure, which Shields says she had, people have full-body convulsions on both sides, and stiffening of muscles. Usually the legs are extended, the eyes may be open and the head flexed forward or backward, Alexopoulos said.

The jerking movements that occur are the symptoms most people associate with seizures, he said, because they are the ones we often see on television or in movies, but they are not the most common seizure types.

There are two broad types of seizures: focal and generalized. In focal seizures, the person remains conscious but may experience motor, sensory or psychic feelings such as intense déjà vu. It may be difficult to tell if someone is having a focal seizure.

In generalized seizures, abnormal activity happens on both sides of the brain. These types of seizures can include:

  • A brief scream or cry at the beginning of the seizure
  • Staring into space, with or without twitching of muscles
  • Stiffening of muscles, usually in the back, legs and arms
  • Repeated jerking movements on both sides of the body
  • A loss of muscle tone that can cause the person to fall or the head to drop

When a seizure is marked by a combination of symptoms, including stiffening of the body, repeated jerks of the arms and a loss of consciousness, it's referred to as a grand mal, or tonic-clonic, seizure.


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Are seizures more common with age?

Although many people consider seizures and epilepsy childhood conditions, they can actually become more common as we age, Alexopoulos said. “It turns out that many people develop seizures after the age of 50 or 65.”

He said there are about 3 million people who have epilepsy, and 1 million of them are above the age of 55. Older people may develop seizures after stroke, brain tumors, head injuries or bleeding in the brain. Infections in the brain and some autoimmune conditions can also cause seizures, he said.

“It seems that more than 30 percent of epilepsy starts beyond the age of 55 and the number increases as we get older,” he said. “It’s very common and under-recognized.”

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Warning signs of seizures

Although seizures are often portrayed as full-body convulsions and foaming at the mouth, they can show up in dozens of ways. A new national survey by the Orlando Health hospital system finds that while 78 percent of Americans recognize that convulsions are a sign of a seizure, less than half of Americans know numbness or tingling, blinking rapidly, crying out or screaming and laughing can also be signs.

Not everyone who is going to have a seizure will have warning signs, but Alexopoulos said some common indications include:

  • A change in expression
  • Suddenly stopping while in the middle of a conversation
  • Stopping in the middle of something they are doing
  • Unusual vision symptoms, such as seeing bright lights, or a picture that repeats itself
  • Hearing things that are not there, such as a muffled noise or the sound of a train approaching
  • A foul smell or change in taste or smell
  • A strong feeling of déjà vu
  • Sweating or heart palpitations

How to help someone having a seizure

When someone is having a seizure, do not try to hold them down or put anything in their mouth or give them CPR. If they are on the ground and have lost consciousness, prop them on one side if possible. Clear the area of any sharp objects or things that could cause harm.

“To avoid injuries, it’s important that we stay with the person and do not necessarily intervene,” Alexopoulos said.

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