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Preemies May Be at Higher Risk of Epilepsy Later in Life
Date:10/3/2011

By Ellin Holohan
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Babies born very preterm -- defined as 23 to 31 weeks of gestational age -- are five times more likely than full-term newborns to have epilepsy as an adult, according to a recent study.

The study, based on Swedish medical databases, also found that being born just a few weeks early increased the risk of having the seizure disorder as adults. Babies born as late as 35 to 36 weeks into a pregnancy had a 76 percent higher risk of epilepsy later in life than those born between 37 and 42 weeks, or full-term.

Noting the enormity of the increased risk, one study author said the findings show the importance of "advancing our knowledge" regarding the consequences of preterm birth.

"The magnitude of that effect was surprising," said Dr. Casey Crump, a study author and assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University. The finding "highlights the need to better prevent preterm births, and increases awareness of these effects among survivors of preterm birth, their families and their doctors."

He noted that most people born prematurely live full, "high-quality" lives.

The study is published in the Oct. 4 issue of the journal Neurology.

Epilepsy -- recurrent brain seizures with no obvious cause such as high fever or meningitis -- is the most common neurological disorder, according to background information in the study. It affects more than 50 million children and adults worldwide, the study noted. Seizures occur when a sudden electrical discharge affects the brain, resulting in symptoms ranging from vision changes and staring, to uncontrolled twitching and jerking of the whole body.

The disorder, which often tapers off in adulthood, can be controlled by medications.

In the study, researchers analyzed adult medical records of 630,090 Swedish babies born between 1973 and 1979, looking for hospitalizations for
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