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Teresa Heinz Kerry upgraded to fair condition

Wife of Secretary of State John F. Kerry remains under doctor’s care at MGH in Boston

Teresa Heinz Kerry and John Kerry in 2004.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/File

Teresa Heinz Kerry and John Kerry in 2004.

The health of philanthropist Teresa Heinz Kerry has improved at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where the wife of Secretary of State John F. Kerry is now considered to be in fair condition, an improvement from the critical condition she was in on Sunday.

Kerry spokesman Glen Johnson released a statement shortly before noon today providing a brief update of the status of the 74-year-old Heinz Kerry, who was rushed from Nantucket to Boston Sunday after suffering a still-unexplained medical event in her home.

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“After conducting tests overnight and this morning, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital have upgraded Mrs. Teresa Heinz Kerry’s condition from critical to fair,’’ Johnson said in the statement.

“She is undergoing further evaluation, and Secretary of State John Kerry, her son, and other family members remain with Mrs. Heinz Kerry at the hospital in Boston, as they have been since she became ill,” the statement continued.

“The family is touched by the outpouring of well-wishes,’’ Johnson said.

Kerry, who was at the hospital until shortly after 1 a.m., returned to MGH around 8:45 a.m. today, Johnson said.

“He’s obviously concerned about the well-being of his wife,’’ Johnson said today, “but comforted by the sound medical care she’s received.’’

MGH referred all questions on Heinz Kerry to Johnson.

Heinz Kerry, 74, was stricken while at the family’s Nantucket vacation home on Sunday afternoon.

Heinz Kerry was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2009 and underwent surgery and radiation treatments. She has publicly encouraged other women to get regular mammograms to help enable early detection of the disease.

According to a source close to the family, relatives became alarmed when Heinz Kerry demonstrated symptoms that suggested she was having some sort of seizure, the cause of which remains unknown today.

Heinz Kerry was first taken to Nantucket Cottage Hospital and then transferred to MGH.

There are various symptoms of a seizure, or a misfiring of electrical activity sometimes affecting the whole brain and sometimes just a small part.

The potential causes fall across a wide spectrum of severity.

The most recognizable sign of a seizure is the shaking or thrashing of arms or legs, typical of a full-body or grand mal seizure. Some people faint or experience shaking in just one limb.

Other symptoms can include a loss of consciousness or a change in mental state, causing a person to “go blank” or become unresponsive, said Dr. Joshua Goldstein, director of the Center for Neurologic Emergencies at MGH, who is not involved at all in Heinz Kerry’s care and spoke only generally about seizures.

Heavy alcohol consumption and some prescription medications can trigger seizures. So can brain infections and meningitis, or swelling of the brain. Metabolic abnormalities, such as a drop in sodium caused by dehydration, can cause a seizure in someone who is otherwise healthy, while strokes or traumatic brain injuries also can lead to seizures.

Brain tumors can be another cause.

The brain requires “such a complex network of signals firing all the time, that only the littlest thing can throw it off,” Goldstein said.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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