If a woman drinks alcohol when she is pregnant, her baby could be born with fetal alcohol syndrome, a complex of birth defects that can include hyperactivity, seizures, facial and head irregularities, cognitive deficits, attention deficits, memory impairments, learning impairments, motor coordination deficits, and poor psychosocial functioning.
Four first-year medical students from Georgetown University Medical Center recently studied the problem of fetal alcohol syndrome, and reported their findings in the journal Developmental Neuroscience. They concluded that very little progress has been made in preventing babies from being born with the syndrome.
“Although there is a lot of research in the field to determine how alcohol acts on the developing brain, there is not much translation into the clinic," said Sahar Ismail, one of the four researchers.
“What surprised us the most was the lack of sensitive and specific diagnostic tools to identify children with FAS, given its prevalence and harmful effects on the child, family and society.”
The study found that many factors influence FAS, such as genetics, the woman's history of alcohol abuse, and her age. Yet questions remain, such as -- Is there a safe level of drinking during pregnancy? Will there ever be a way to reverse the effects of alcohol exposure on a fetus? Are some children more at risk because of factors unique to the baby and the mother?
Some studies indicate that FAS only occurs if the mother is an alcoholic, and does not occur if a pregnant woman consumes fewer than eight drinks a week. Other research indicates that between 10% and 30% of pregnant woman drink alcohol at some point during pregnancy, but FAS occurs only once in every 100 births.
Posted By: Jane St. Clair