New Predictors May Detect Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Most people are familiar with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and know that it can result when a expectant mother drinks during pregnancy, but many people don’t know that there is a spectrum of disorders that may result due to infant alcohol exposure in utero. Common diagnoses on the spectrum include:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial FAS
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders

Signs of Alcohol-Related Disorders in Infants

A variety of signs and symptoms may be present in an infant who has been harmed by their mother’s alcohol intake while they were developing in the womb. The following are typical features observed in children with FAS:

  • Inhibited growth patterns
  • Central nervous system (CNS) damage
  • Malformed facial features

Many physicians feel that all of the above clinical presentations need to be present in order to diagnose FAS, and many feel that only growth restriction and dysmorphic facial features must be present. A new study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) sought to find out how prevalent each of the above features are in children with fetal alcohol exposure.

Study Finds CNS Damage May Be Most Common Symptom of Fetal Alcohol Exposure

The NICHHD study was published in the journal of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and followed a group of women and their children’s development for an 8.5-year timespan. In the beginning, 9,628 women were screened at a prenatal visit to find women who were engaged in heavy drinking. The researchers used the bar of four or more drinks per day to constitute “heavy drinking.” The team found 101 women out of the original group who consumed that amount of alcohol from conception to birth. The heavy drinking group was then matched with 101 women who abstained from drinking alcohol throughout their pregnancies.

Physicians blinded to the mothers’ alcohol consumption examined each group periodically. The most common features for children exposed to alcohol in the womb were neurological abnormalities. The study found the following results:

  • Neurological abnormalities: 44.0 percent of alcohol-exposed children and 13.6 percent of unexposed children
  • Growth restriction: 27.2 percent of alcohol-exposed children and 12.5 percent of unexposed children
  • Abnormal facial features: 17.3 percent (14/81) of alcohol-exposed children and 1.1 percent of unexposed children

Researchers Hope to Raise Awareness of Alcohol-Related Birth Defects

The number of children exposed to heavy amounts of alcohol that developed the dysmorphic facial features believed to be indicative of FAS was surprisingly low. Neurological damage was the result most often seen in the infants born to mothers with excessive alcohol intake. Overall, binge drinking (five or more drinks in a day) was the greatest predictor of negative health outcomes in the children with fetal alcohol exposure.

The study’s lead author, Devon Kuehn, MD, said: “We also hope we can heighten clinicians’ awareness so that they can take into account functional neurologic deficits and not count only on the physical features of these children.”

If you know someone who is pregnant and can’t stop drinking, contact us today. We offer comprehensive alcohol rehabilitation programs that can kick-start a new life in recovery here at Axis. Call now.