Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Epilepsy Link Uncovered


Women who drink alcohol while pregnant not only place their child at risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which is associated with physical, behavioral, and learning problems. A new study from Queen’s University shows that children with FASD are also at risk of developing epilepsy.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 100 percent preventable if women do not drink alcohol during pregnancy, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The bottom line is, there is no known safe amount of alcohol nor a safe type of alcohol a pregnant woman can consume, nor a safe time during pregnancy to consume it.

The exact number of children who are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is not known. The CDC studies show that 0.2 to 1.5 children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome for every 1,000 live births in some parts of the United States, while other studies place the figures at 0.5 to 2.0 cases per 1,000 live births.

In the Queen’s University study, researchers evaluated the histories of 425 people ages 2 to 49 from two FASD clinics. They found that 6 percent of the study participants had epilepsy and 12 percent had experienced at least one seizure during their lifetimes. This is compared with less than one percent of the general public that develops epilepsy.

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The researchers also found that people with FASD were more likely to have epilepsy or a history of seizures if their mothers had exposed them to alcohol during the first trimester or throughout the entire pregnancy.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder refers to a collection of conditions that include fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). Individual disorders within the spectrum are diagnosed; the term FASD itself is not a clinical diagnosis.

Fetal alcohol syndrome represents the most serious end of the FASD spectrum. Individuals who have fetal alcohol syndrome may have abnormal facial features, central nervous system problems, difficulties with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, or hearing, or a mixture of these problems.

Individuals who have ARND may have intellectual problems, as well as behavioral and learning disabilities. Frequently they have difficulties with memory, math, attention, judgment, and poor impulse control. Alcohol-related birth defects typically include problems with the heart, kidneys, bones, or hearing, or a combination of these issues.

The Queen’s University study results support a growing body of evidence that women who drink while pregnant place their child at greater risk for a variety of behavioral and neurologic health problems. A link between fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and epilepsy is one more reason why women should abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, and even in the weeks or months before they become pregnant.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Center for Excellence
Queen’s University, news release April 6, 2010