Alcohol, Pregnancy Add Up to Tragedy

Article excerpt

The term fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) refers to the most severe permanent effects of a child's exposure to alcohol while in the mother's womb, including mental retardation, abnormal physical appearance and behavior, and extreme limitation of normal lifetime capabilities.

Less extreme effects of fetal alcohol exposure may include permanent brain damage plus lifelong behavioral, educational and socialization problems; these are referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. (FASD)

Worldwide, fetal alcohol exposure is considered to be the most significant known cause of mental retardation. In addition to representing a tragedy for the families who experience the effects of FAS/FASD, the disorders also are costly; the Centers for Disease Control estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a person with fetal alcohol syndrome is $2 million.

Although the incidence of FAS/FASD varies across the United States (a conservative estimate is that one of every 100 babies born has some form of the disorders), the CDC estimates that 29 percent to 50 percent of the women of childbearing age in the Mid-South drink alcohol, and 5 percent to 16 percent are heavy drinkers.

We know of no certain relationship between the amount of alcohol a woman consumes during her pregnancy and the severity of the outcome for her child. Factors such as genetics and the length of time alcohol is used through a series of pregnancies may affect the outcome, and there may also be some contribution to FAS/FASD from fathers who consume alcohol.

If FAS/FASD is recognized early on, some interventions can improve the situation, but behavioral modifications are limited. There are other physical ramifications, such as abnormalities in vision, hearing, movement and coordination, plus more frequent illnesses. Children with FAS/FASD suffer lifelong consequences through no fault of their own. When the damage occurs, there is no cure.

We face a host of problems in identifying children suffering from FAS/FASD. There are no simple medical tests that can make this diagnosis. A trained professional must take a history and perform enough physical and functional tests to rule out other conditions that might have overlapping symptoms. …