Remarkably High Prevalence of Epilepsy and Seizure History in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

A new study from a team of researchers around Canada reveals that fetal alcohol syndrome significantly increases patients' risk for seizures.

Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are at a significantly increased risk for seizures, a team of researchers from universities and hospitals in Canada has found.

Writing in the early online edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the team reported an overall presence of epilepsy or a history of seizures in 17.7% of the patients studied. All patients included in the research were from two FASD clinics. Specifically, 25 patients (5.9%) had a confirmed diagnosis of epilepsy, and 50 (11.8%) had experienced at least one documented seizure episode.

"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 of 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."

The researchers examined the history of 425 patients ages 2-49 years, using chi-square and multivariate multinomial logistic regression to determine the relationship between a FASD diagnosis and other risk factors for co-occurrence of epilepsy or a seizure disorder — extent of exposure to alcohol and other drugs, type of birth, and trauma. In the cases where the researchers were able to obtain information about a mother’s drinking history, they found that first trimester exposure or drinking throughout all three trimesters were the predominant forms of fetal exposure. The researchers added that “none of the other risk factors were associated with a greater prevalence of epilepsy or seizures.”