A new study has suggested that babies born prematurely face an increased risk of developing epilepsy as an adult.

Researchers from Stanford University in Calif., examined whether preterm birth was associated with epilepsy in 630,090 infants born in Sweden from 1973 to 1979.

A total of 27,953 preterm births were identified, and followed up from 2005 to 2009 for hospitalization for epilepsy, and inpatient and outpatient prescription of antiepileptic drugs.

They found adults who were born very preterm (23-31 weeks gestational age) were five times more likely to be hospitalized for epilepsy as an adult compared to those adults who were born full-term (37-42 weeks gestational age).

Adults who were born between 32-34 weeks of pregnancy were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized for epilepsy and adults who were born between 35 and 36 weeks were one-and-a-half times as likely to be hospitalized for epilepsy compared to those born full-term.

The results remained the same regardless of fetal growth, birth order or related disorders that may be associated with preterm birth.
"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 study author Casey Crump, MD, PhD, of Stanford University in Stanford, California.

"More effective prevention of preterm birth is urgently needed to reduce the burden of epilepsy later in life," he added.

The study is published in the October 4, 2011, issue of Neurology.