The research found that children who suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) – a condition caused by maternal drinking during pregnancy – were six times more likely to suffer from epilepsy as they grew older.
They were also more likely to suffer at least one seizure at some point in their lives. Previous research has indicated a connection between drinking during pregnancy and rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and even Parkinson's and stroke.
Neuroscientists said the latest study added to growing understanding about the risks posed to unborn babies by mothers' alcohol consumption, but added that it was difficult to establish a causal link between drinking and epilepsy.
Dan Savage, Regents' Professor at the University of New Mexico's Department of Neurosciences said: "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 behavioural health problems than we had appreciated before
The consensus recommendation of scientists and clinical investigators, along with public health officials around the world, is very clear a woman should abstain from drinking during pregnancy as part of an overall programme of good prenatal care that includes good nutrition, adequate exercise, sufficient rest, and proper prenatal health care."
Researchers examined the histories of 425 individuals from two FASD clinics, looking for a correlation between suspected risk factors including exposure to alcohol and drugs during pregnancy, and occurrences of epilepsy and seizures.
James Reynolds of the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, who contributed to the study, said: "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.
Establishing a direct link between these clinical conditions will be a difficult challenge given our incomplete understanding of how ethanol damages the developing brain and what neuropathological changes in brain tissue lead to the development of different types of epilepsy."
Around 456,000 people in Britain have epilepsy. Fits happen when there is a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain, causing a temporary disruption in the normal message passing between brain cells.
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