Drinking during Pregnancy Can Trigger Birth Defects

Article excerpt

* National statistics show that the rate of fetal alcohol syndrome, though completely preventable, has risen dramatically over the past 15 years.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is one of the major preventable causes of birth defects and childhood disabilities, medical experts warn.

A child born Wednesday at St. Joseph Health Center, St. Charles, had a blood-alcohol level of .138; a level of .10 is considered legally drunk in Missouri. The newborn boy did not show all the classic symptoms of the most serious alcohol-related condition widely recognized by medical experts: fetal alcohol syndrome. But his case showed the need to avoid alcohol during pregnancy, experts said. A wide range of health problems can result, depending on how much alcohol the fetus is exposed to and during what period of pregnancy. Resultant problems can include mental retardation, learning disorders, facial abnormalities and stunted growth. How common is the syndrome? A good statistical measure is difficult to come by. Commonly used national estimates range between one and two cases for each 1,000 births. That translates roughly into two- to four-dozen cases a year each in Missouri and Illinois. These figures don't account for babies who are damaged by prenatal exposure to alcohol but not diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. "Fetal alcohol syndrome kids are just the tip of an iceberg," said Margaret Tyler, an analyst with the Missouri Department of Health. The rate of fetal alcohol syndrome has risen dramatically over the past 15 years. That may be partly because doctors are looking more carefully for the syndrome than ever before. On the other hand, birth certificates - used to keep such statistics - are often issued before a diagnosis is made. …