Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) show a very high prevalence of developing epilepsy and having seizures, according to a national study by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Six percent of study participants had epilepsy and 12 percent had one or more seizures in their lifetimes. By comparison, less than one percent of the general population is expected to develop epilepsy. The study results also showed that individuals were more likely to have epilepsy, or a history of seizures, if exposure to alcohol had occurred in the first trimester or throughout the entire pregnancy.

“There are very few studies that have examined the relationship between seizures and epilepsy among individuals with FASD,” says study co-author James Reynolds, a pharmacology, toxicology and neuroscience researcher at Queen’s University. “The consensus recommendation of scientists, clinicians, and public health officials around the world is very clear—a woman should abstain from drinking during pregnancy as part of an overall program of good prenatal health care that includes good nutrition, adequate exercise, and sufficient rest.”

Researchers examined the histories of 425 individuals between the ages of two and 49 years from two FASD clinics. They compared risk factors such as the level of exposure to alcohol or other drugs, type of birth, and trauma with the co-occurrence of epilepsy or a history of seizures in participants with confirmed FASD diagnoses. The report builds on a growing body of evidence that maternal drinking during pregnancy may put a child at greater risk for an even wider variety of neurologic and behavioral health problems than thought before.

The study results will appear in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Epilepsy Foundation Professional Advisory Board Chair and Director of Research for the Epilepsy Division of the Department of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Page Pennell, M.D., says:

This study highlights the importance of good health practices during pregnancy to avoid detrimental effects on the developing brain. Not only should women avoid alcohol during pregnancy, but they should also avoid smoking and any recreational drugs. It is also important to begin good nutrition and supplemental vitamins prior to pregnancy and continue this throughout the entire pregnancy and breastfeeding. Since critical organ and brain development begins very early in pregnancy (sometimes before you know you are pregnant), it is wise to start taking folic acid before becoming pregnant, possibly with an additional prenatal multivitamin. Check with your physician about the exact dosage.

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