Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the result of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The condition is actually an umbrella term encompassing a number of problems and consequences which occur as a result of excessive alcohol consumption by a pregnant mother. The effects are catastrophic: alcohol can easily cross the placental wall and its toxic effect can stunt fetal growth and have other severe consequences, mainly on the brain by stunting its development. Alcohol is a toxin as are its metabolites.
1. Symptoms & signs of FAS
– Low birth weight
– Small head circumference and other minor facial anomalies, including a smaller upper head and jaw
– Growth deficiency or stunted growth
Any pregnancy woman should stop drinking the moment she discovers she is pregnant. Alcoholics should seek counselling and medical attention is they find out they are pregnant and have been regularly inebriated. Genetic studies have shown a strong genetic link between alcohol consumption, alcoholism, dipsomania and our DNA. Certain genes increase a person’s genetic predisposition to alcoholism.
Further to this, scientists are interested in learning about the genes that actually deter someone from becoming an alcoholic. The frequency of the gene which would help deter or reduce the incidence of alcoholism is found in many Asians. This gene helps in the synthesis of an enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase, which helps efficiently metabolize alcohol.
Genetic predisposition testing and extensive analysis of the certain genetic sequences on the human genome have shown that many American and Caucasians appear not to have this gene.
2. Effects on the brain
- Damage to the basal ganglia, an area associated with learning and memory, results in an underdeveloped or entirely lacking special working memory.
- Underdeveloped cerebellum in fetal alcohol syndrome means an inability to coordinate and balance as well as poor motor skills.
- Further to this, the corpus collasum, a part of the brain of major importance, connecting the left and right hemispheres and involved in communication is underdeveloped or altogether absent.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a leading cause of mental retardation. Despite the widespread awareness of the negative effects of drinking alcohol, a surprising number of expectant mothers still continue to drink whilst pregnant. Some mothers are unaware of being pregnancy for the first few weeks and thus may unwittingly consume alcohol whilst carrying a baby – as soon as you discover you are pregnant stop all alcohol.
3. How can the syndrome be tested for?
Fetal alcohol syndrome and consequences are irreversible. The number of babies with fetal alcohol syndrome that are born without any mental retardation are very, very few. The only sensible advice possible is to eliminate alcohol before getting pregnant; for heavy drinkers, birth control is the best option.
Midwife sonographer facilitated
Consultant Led, Centre of Medical Excellence
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