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Epilepsy linked to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

People with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are 10 times as likely as the general population to suffer from epilepsy, according to a recent Canadian study.

FASD is associated with a wide range of learning disabilities and behavioural issues, and previous research has suggested that people with the disorder may also be prone to epilepsy. But this is the first study to quantify the extent of the problem.

"The numbers are huge," said the research group's principal investigator, James Reynolds of Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

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Epilepsy, a condition characterized by the spontaneous recurrence of seizures, affects about 0.6 per cent of the general population. By contrast, an estimated 6 per cent of people with FASD have a diagnosed case of epilepsy, while an additional 12 per cent have had one or more seizures, according to findings published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

For the study, the researchers examined the medical histories of 425 people aged from 2 to 49 at two clinics that treat FASD. Extrapolating from the data, they came up with an overall estimate of those affected.

Dr. Reynolds said exposure to alcohol in the womb causes lesions to the brain of a developing fetus, setting the stage for epilepsy.

Uncontrolled seizures can lead to further brain damage. That's why it's critically important to identify and treat the condition, he added. Medications can reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.

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