Summary, originally posted in Science Daily
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) refers to a range of negative developmental outcomes that result from maternal drinking during pregnancy. Children with FASD can suffer from many problems, including epilepsy, and a new study has found a much higher prevalence of epilepsy or history of seizures in individuals with FASD.
For this study, researchers examined the histories of 425 individuals (254 males, 171 females), between the ages of two and 49 years, from two FASD clinics. Relationships between a confirmed FASD diagnosis and other risk factors — such as exposure to alcohol or other drugs, type of birth, and trauma — were examined for the co-occurrence of epilepsy or a history of seizures.
“This study revealed a much higher prevalence of epilepsy and seizure history in individuals with a diagnosis of FASD,” said Stephanie H. Bell, a researcher with the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queens University and corresponding author for the study. “In the general population, less than one percent are expected to develop epilepsy; of those with FASD, six percent had epilepsy and 12 percent had one or more seizures in their life. Subjects 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.”
“While this report supports a growing impression that fetal alcohol exposure may predispose the immature brain to the development of epilepsy, the results do not establish a direct cause-effect relationship between FASD and epilepsy,” cautioned Dan Savage, a professor of neuroscience at the University of New Mexico who was not involved in the study. “Establishing a direct link between these clinical conditions will be a difficult challenge given our incomplete understanding of how alcohol damages the developing brain and what neuropathological changes in brain tissue lead to the development of different types of epilepsy.”
Nonetheless, Savage added that it is clear that alcohol can damage the fetal brain. “The extent to which this damage leads to adverse neurobehavioral consequences likely depends upon many factors, including the amount and patterns of drinking during pregnancy, the presence of other pregnancy risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, substance abuse, or poor prenatal care, and the presence of other diseases affecting a mother’s health, such as diabetes or high blood pressure,” he said. “As risk factors accumulate, the risk of adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes also increases.”
“This 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 we had appreciated before,” said Savage. “The consensus recommendation of scientists and clinical investigators, along with public health officials around the world, is very clear — a woman should avoid drinking during pregnancy as part of an overall program of good prenatal care that includes good nutrition, adequate exercise, sufficient rest, and proper prenatal health care.”