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What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

 


Fetal alcohol syndrome is a preventable set of birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

At birth, children with FAS can be recognized by growth deficiency and a characteristic set of minor facial traits that tend to become more normal as the child matures. Less evident at birth - but far more devastating to FAS children and their families - are the lifelong effects of alcohol-induced damage to the developing brain. FAS is the leading known cause of mental retardation and birth defects. In addition to deficits in general intellectual functioning, individuals with FAS often demonstrate difficulties with learning, memory, attention and problem solving, as well as problems with mental health and social interactions. Thus, these individuals and their families face persistent hardships in virtually every aspect of life

Prenatal alcohol exposure does not always result in FAS, although there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Most individuals affected by alcohol exposure before birth do not have the characteristic facial abnormalities and growth retardation identified with FAS, yet they have brain and other impairments that are just as significant. The term "alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder" describes the functional or mental impairments linked to prenatal alcohol exposure, and "alcohol-related birth defects" describes malformations in the skeletal and major organ systems.

Individuals with FAS have a distinct pattern of facial abnormalities, growth deficiency and evidence of central nervous system dysfunction. In addition to mental retardation, individuals with FAS, ARND and ARBD may have other neurological deficits such as poor motor skills and hand-eye coordination. They may also have a complex pattern of behavioral and learning problems, including difficulties withmemory, attention and judgment. As many as 12,000 infants are born each year with FAS and three times as many have ARND or ARBD. FAS, ARND and ARBD affect more newborns every year than Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and sudden infant death syndrome combined.

Prevention

FAS, ARND and ARBD are 100 percent preventable when a woman completely abstains from alcohol during her pregnancy. NOFAS prevents alcohol-related effects through public awareness and education, and by

increasing access to prenatal health care.

Another key to prevention is to screen all women of reproductive age for alcohol problems and to use appropriate strategies - such as treatment for alcohol problems - to eliminate drinking before conception.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. Through the blood vessels in the placenta, the mother's blood supplies the developing baby with nourishment and oxygen. If the mother drinks alcohol, the alcohol enters her blood stream and then, through the placenta, enters the blood supply of the growing baby.

Alcohol is a teratogen, a substance known to be toxic to human development. Depending on the amount, timing and pattern of use, if alcohol reaches the growing baby's blood supply, it can interfere with healthy development.

If a woman drinks wine, beer or liquor when she is pregnant, her baby could be born with FAS. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. If you consumed alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, stop drinking now. Abstaining from alcohol for the remainder of your pregnancy can have a beneficial effect even on functions that might have been affected by earlier drinking. The sooner you stop drinking, the better the chance of having a healthy baby.

You could be pregnant and not know it. So if you are trying to get pregnant or are sexually active and not using contraception, don't drink alcohol.

If you are a parent or grandparent of an FAS child or take care of an FAS child, more information and resources are available at http://www.fasworld.com, from your physicianor county health department, or by calling the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206.

 

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