WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suffered a medical scare yesterday afternoon when he had a seizure and fell on a dock near his summer home on an island off the coast of Maine.
Roberts, 52, was taken by a private boat from Hupper Island to the mainland and then by ambulance to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport.
A statement issued by the court last evening said Roberts "underwent a thorough neurological evaluation, which revealed no cause for concern." He was kept overnight at the hospital as a precaution.
"The chief justice is fully recovered from the incident," said court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg, adding that he had "experienced minor scrapes in the fall."
She said Roberts had suffered "what doctors describe as a benign idiopathic seizure."
Idiopathic means that the cause is unknown. Medical experts said doctors would have performed a magnetic resonance imaging scan, or MRI, and other tests to rule out the possibility of a brain tumor or a stroke.
The court confirmed that Roberts had suffered a similar seizure in 1993. For several months afterward, he did not drive but instead took a bus to work in downtown Washington or car-pooled with a friend.
A seizure is caused by "excessive electrical activity in the brain," according to Medline Plus, an online medical encyclopedia published by the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine. Some seizures are focused on one part of the brain or one side of the body; others are classified as generalized, meaning the whole body is affected. Not all seizures cause an individual to lose consciousness or experience convulsions.
In yesterday's incident, which occurred about 2 p.m., Roberts "was conscious and alert" while being transported, the local fire chief, Tim Polky, told the Associated Press.
Just about everyone is at some risk of a seizure, said Dr. Marc Nuwer, an expert in seizure disorders at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine. In an adult, a seizure can be triggered by a variety of factors, including sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol consumption or certain medications, such as the anti-depressant Wellbutrin.
Because of his previous seizure, physicians may offer Roberts drugs to reduce the risk of recurrence. But given the length of time between the two incidents, the benefits of such medications, which are taken daily, might not outweigh the risks of side effects.
For the next week or so, Nuwer said, Roberts will probably have a headache and a sore body. "He will feel bad, like he ran a marathon but was not in shape," he said.
Roberts will probably be told not to drive a car for at least a week until physicians are confident he will not have another seizure.
Nuwer emphasized that the seizure should not have any effect on Roberts' mental abilities or his time on the court.
Two years ago this month, President Bush selected Roberts, then an appellate court judge, to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. At that time, Roberts' health was described as "excellent."
Six weeks later, when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died of cancer, Bush switched course and made Roberts his nominee for chief justice.
David G. Savage writes for the Los Angeles Times.