Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the term used to describe a series of birth defects associated with fetal alcohol exposure in utero. Women are warned not to consume alcohol during pregnancy due to the possible of FAS, but researchers are concerned that the number of infants with FAS could be extremely under-reported due to a lack of physical presentation in some case.

Common symptoms of FAS include cognitive problems like behavior and attention disorders and physical abnormalities of the face. The problem, according to researchers, is that some infants and children don’t develop facial deformities, so behaviors problems may not be connected with alcohol exposure in utero.

It is estimated that nearly 50% of children who experienced excessive fetal alcohol exposure will suffer cognitive problems, but only 17% of children suffer facial deformity. In the remaining 33% of children, the behavioral problems could be associated with some other factor and not with FAS. If the true number of infants affected by FAS is under-reported, the importance of eliminating alcohol during pregnancy may not hit home with some expecting women.

While the effects of FAS cannot be reversed – researchers have yet to study all of the possible long-term effects of FAS. If a child is not diagnosed with FAS, health problems that may be associated with the condition later in life could go without cause. Children could also go without the proper medical attention they need to help with behavioral and cognitive problems.

Research for the study involved interviewing more than 9,000 women. Researchers were able to find 101 women who admitted to drinking at least four alcoholic drinks per day. They then recruited 101 similar women who did not drink as controls. Infants born to the 202 women were evaluated at birth and regularly up until the children reached eight years old. Heavy daily drinking contributed to the development of FAS, but so did binge drinking. Some women in the study reported drinking in excess of five drinks at one time. This number defined the binge.

The lack of physical deformities was a point of concern, because doctors presented with symptoms without proper knowledge of alcohol consumption during pregnancy would not have the information they needed to make a proper diagnosis on the children.

With the potential for increased numbers of infants affected by FAS education is extremely important. Pregnant women should be presented with pamphlets on the possible effects of alcohol consumption on pregnancy, including the possibility of behavioral problems and cognitive issues later in life.

< Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Source: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. July 23, 2012.