The consequences mixing alcohol with pregnancy: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Month

Posted on September 9, 2016 by kerri
From bags at the liquor store, to public service announcements, there are many reminders why women who are pregnant should not consume alcohol during pregnancy. Among the consequences of consuming alcohol during pregnancy is your baby developing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). More commonly known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), we now know that FAS is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects all kids differently—kind of like autism—and is on a spectrum. Unlike autism, though, which is considered to be caused by genetics, FASD the effect of a known and preventable cause: alcohol exposure in utero.

In the United States, the Centres for Disease Control in Prevention state that 1 in 10 women reports using alcohol during pregnancy—3.3 million American women are at risk of exposing their unborn baby to alcohol [2]. The Canadian Public Health Agency advises that “there is no safe amount, and no safe time, to drink alcohol during pregnancy.” [1] The CDC expands this to note that there is also no safe amount of alcohol to be consumed when trying to become pregnant [2.1]. Alcohol passes through the mother’s bloodstream, through the umbilical cord, and into the body of the unborn fetus—all types of alcohol are equally harmful. [2.1]

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder includes both diagnoses of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS), Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), and Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD) [1]. The term Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) was previously used but removed from diagnostic terms in 1996, per the CDC [2]. These conditions cause varying impacts on the brain and body. There is no cure for FASDs, and they have lifelong impact on individuals with these disorders and their families. FASD can affect a person’s physical, intellectual and emotional health, causing physical health, brain, and social issues.ranging from mild to severe [1].

FASDs result in the following symptoms. Not all FASDs include all of the below symptoms as the impacts of alcohol will vary from individual to individual based on a myriad of factors [2.1]:

     Physical [2.1]
  • Abnormal facial features (smooth ridge between nose and upper lip, unlike the two bumps typical of most individuals)
  • Small head
  • Short stature
  • Low body weight
  • Kidney and heart problems
  • Bone problems
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Poor coordination
     Neurodevelopmental (Cognitive/Intellectual) [2.1]
  • Inattention and hyperactivity (ADHD-like symptoms)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ
  • Poor reasoning, judgement and memory
     Sensory [2.1]
  • Problems with vision
  • Hearing impairment
  • Speech and language delays
Children and adults with FASD will require extra medical attention and supports throughout their lives, dependent on the severity of the disorder. Treatment is not specific to FASD, but rather to the symptoms experienced. Medicines like stimulants, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs and neuroleptics (used to treat aggression and anxiety) may help some individuals. [2.2] Early intervention services from birth to three years can get children with FASD the best start in life, along with early diagnosis, special education and social services, a supportive and stable home environment, and absence of any violence exposure promote the best outcomes [2.2]. Medical support may include a host of different specialists based on the medical concerns present, as well as support of a dietitian, speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and/or psychologists [2.2]. Behavioural treatments and training for parents should also be a cornerstone of managing FASD.
Dependent on the effects of FASD, individuals may benefit from wearing medical ID jewelry—this can be especially important if sensory problems are present affecting hearing or speech, or kidney or heart problems are present.

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