What is fetal alcohol syndrome?
To establish the diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome, specific criteria must be met. These include (1) documentation of three characteristic facial abnormalities, (2) documentation of smaller than expected prenatal and/or postnatal length, weight, and head circumference growth parameters, and (3) documentation of central nervous system abnormalities. These criteria will be further described later in this article.
Fetal alcohol syndrome facts
- Combined 2011 to 2012 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that 8.5 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 drank alcohol in the past month. Also, 2.7 percent binge drank. Among women aged 15 to 44 who were not pregnant, 55.5 percent drank alcohol in the past month, and 24.7 percent binge drank. Most alcohol use by pregnant women occurred during the first trimester. Alcohol use was lower during the second and third trimesters than during the first (4.2 and 3.7 percent vs. 17.9 percent). These findings suggest that many pregnant women are getting the message and not drinking alcohol.
- Infants of mothers who drank during pregnancy may experience a spectrum of consequences that range from “fetal alcohol effects” (FAE), alcohol-related birth defects(ARBD), and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Fetal alcohol syndrome is regarded as the most severe.
- Some children sustain no obvious side effects of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
What causes fetal alcohol syndrome?
Alcohol is rapidly transported via placental blood flow from mother to fetus and is known to cause miscarriage and birth defects. Within two hours of maternal ingestion, fetal alcohol blood levels are similar to maternal alcohol blood levels. There is no established relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed and side effects sustained by the infant. This puzzling observation may reflect the maternal rate of alcohol breakdown via her liver.
It has been observed that alcohol consumed at any time during pregnancy may be associated with severe and permanent consequences. First trimester pregnancy alcohol ingestion is linked to the characteristic facial abnormalities of FAS as well as a reduction of intrauterine growth rate. Alcohol consumption during the second trimester also contributes to lower IQ, growth retardation in length and birth weight, as well as cognitive deficits of reading, spelling, and math. Third trimester alcohol consumption amplifies retardation in birth length and ultimate adult height potential.
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