Phototherapy May Increase Risk Of Seizures In Children: Study

New research suggests that side effects of phototherapy may carry a risk of seizures for newborns and young children. 

In a study published last month in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers from the University of California San Francisco warn that phototherapy, or light therapy, may increase the risk of childhood seizures and epilepsy by more than 20%.

Phototherapy is a process that exposes the skin to regular doses of ultraviolet light. It is used to treat skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, and is also sometimes used to treat newborns with jaundice. In cases of jaundice, it lowers bilirubin levels in the blood through a process called photo-oxidation.

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In the latest study, researchers were following up on a previous Dutch study that linked phototherapy to childhood epilepsy, but only in boys. The new study sought to test those findings.

Researchers looked at data on nearly 500,000 infants born from 1995 to 2011 and followed for 60 days. According to the findings, 37,683 infants, or about 7.6%, received phototherapy. The findings indicate that children exposed to phototherapy shortly after birth had a 22% increased risk of childhood seizures.

The findings also indicate a gender difference, with boys having an 18% increased risk of seizures overall, and a 33% increased risk of seizures when exposed to phototherapy. That rate compared to only a 7% increased risk among girls who underwent phototherapy. The researchers determined that the 10-year excess risk resulted in 2.4 children per 1,000 overall, 3.7 per 1,000 among boys and 0.8 per 1,000 among girls.

“Phototherapy in newborns is associated with a small increased risk of childhood seizures, even after adjusting for bilirubin values, and the risk is more significant in boys,” the researchers concluded.


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