Premature birth may be a risk factor

A study published in the October 4 issue of Neurology found that Swedish adults born prematurely had significantly higher rates of epilepsy than their full-term peers. Those born between 23 – 31 weeks’ gestation were five times more likely than peers born full-term to be hospitalized for epilepsy as adults. Adults born moderately premature, born at 32 – 34 weeks, were nearly twice as likely, and those born at 35 – 36 weeks were 1.76 times more likely. “We found a strong connection between preterm birth and risk of epilepsy, and the risk appears to increase dramatically the earlier the birth occurs during pregnancy,” said lead author Casey Crump, MD, PhD, of Stanford University.

The study tracked adults with typical epilepsy — individuals whose seizures occur spontaneously. What relevance does premature birth have to reflex epilepsy – seizures are provoked by a specific stimulus – and in particular, to seizures induced by video games?  The relationship hasn’t been studied, but it’s not a big leap to consider that a nervous system that was underdeveloped at birth might remain more easily overwhelmed by sensory overstimulation. Prematurity carries greater risk for a variety of other neurological conditions in addition to epilepsy: learning disorders, cerebral palsy, ADHD, memory problems, and processing speed deficits. All of these deficits may be caused in part by faulty development of complex neurological structures and pathways that in full-term infants is accomplished in the womb.

The current rate of premature births in the United States is about 12 percent, or nearly one in eight babies. Perhaps parents of preemies should be especially careful to limit their children’s exposure to fast paced, flashing images of electronic entertainment media and should be particularly watchful for signs of visually triggered seizures. My daughter, whose video game seizures led me to familiarize myself with photosensitivity research, was a preemie, born at 32 weeks.

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