Birth Defects Too Often Blamed on Alcohol

Article excerpt

Physicians and geneticists too readily blame birth defects on a mother's use of alcohol during pregnancy and may miss other genetic causes of the abnormalities, says an Arizona researcher. In a study of children previously identified as suffering from the effects of fetal exposure to alcohol, he found that 13 percent suffered from misdiagnosed genetic problems.

"Some of these children were labeled as suffering from mild cases of fetal alcohol effects, when in fact they have something entirely different," says H. Eugene Hoyme of the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson. He urges doctors and geneticists to eliminate the diagnosis of fetal alcohol effects (FAE), considered a mild form of fetal alcohol syndrome.

First described in 1973, fetal alcohol syndrome, one of the most common causes of birth defects, occurs in 1 in 500 to 1 in 1,000 births. Children with the syndrome typically have smaller heads, small eye openings, flattened noses, and smooth upper lips. They also tend to be short and to have low IQs.

Diagnosis of the disorder hinges on facial abnormalities, short stature, and low IQ, says Hoyme. But children who don't meet all three criteria are often diagnosed with FAE, on the assumption that their birth defects arose from their mothers' drinking during pregnancy. …