Alcohol and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


Alcohol plays a major role in society today. It is constantly being .
...... in our minds through advertisements, whether its commercials or
billboards, holidays, or even just at the popular social scene. Alcohol is
consumed for many purposes, such as celebrations, to increase romance, out of
boredom, or a way to relax. Alcohol is a drug that is depended upon by the
majority of our society. Nonetheless, alcohol has very damaging effects, not
only does it cause self-inflicted diseases resembling alcoholism or cirrhosis
of the liver, but it harms unborn fetuses as well. Many women drink alcohol
when they do not even know that they are pregnant yet. Alcohol can cause
disorders such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS, is a congenital disorder which is
characterized by a variety of physical and behavioral traits that result from
maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The term Fetal Alcohol Effects,
FAE, indicates that alcohol is being considered as one of the possible causes of
a patient\'s birth defects. In other words, FAE is a less severe form of FAS.
Both FAS and FAE are the results of the use of teratogens, which are nongenetic
influences that can potentially complicate fetal development.(Harris, p.85)
FAS is due to the mother\'s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.
Alcohol in the woman\'s bloodstream circulates to the fetus via the placenta.
There, the alcohol intrudes with the ability of the fetus to receive a
sufficient amount of oxygen and nourishment for normal development in the brain
and other body organs. The critical time for alcohol teratogenicity is around
the time of conception.

Effects of FAS/FAE

Although alcohol is the only cause of FAS, there are unfortunately
numerous effects. Infants with FAS may have a weak sucking response and an
irregular sucking pattern early in life. Some doctors describe them as
distracted and fatigued when sucking. Withdrawal symptoms such as prolonged
twitching, jitteriness, sweating, and hyperactivity have also been reported in
infants exhibited to alcohol before birth. (Timberlake and Birch, p.1)
Prenatal alcohol exposure is one of the leading known causes of mental
retardation in the United States. Mental retardation is usually mild to
moderate, but occasionally it is severe. Central nervous system handicaps are
also present in children with FAS. A small brain, learning disabilities, short
attention span, hyperactivity in childhood, and poor body, hand, and finger
coordination are examples of CNS handicaps.(NIAAA, p.1) Mental handicaps and
hyperactivity are probably the most debilitating aspects of FAS.(Streissguth,
p.1)
Children with FAS also suffer from facial abnormalities. These
abnormalities include: small eye openings, drooping eyelids, short upturned nose,
thin upper lip, and low set or poorly formed ears. (NIAAA, p.1) These facial
patterns distinguish children with FAS/FAE from normal children, however they
are not harshly malformed.
A more serious and life threatening symptom of FAS is organ deformities.
This includes heart defects, heart murmurs, genital malformities, as well as
urinary and kidney defects. Abnormal thyroid functioning and a decrease in the
effectiveness of the immune system are also present in infants exposed to
alcohol.
What about paternal alcohol consumption? Alcohol may affect fetal
development through a direct effect on the father\'s sperm or gonads. Studies
have shown that children with alcoholic fathers often experience cognitive
abilities and have a greater chance of being hyperactive. These findings were
found in adoption cases, where the biological father was an alcoholic and the
child was raised by nonalcoholic parents.(Cicero,p.3)
FAE is a broad term covering a wide range of success levels, from mild
learning disabilities to a less severe form of FAS. FAE is much harder to
detect than FAS and extremely difficult to diagnose at birth. This is because
FAE conditions begin to occur during school years. These conditions include
behavioral problems, short attention span, language difficulties, and
hyperactivity. (Timberlake and Birch, p.1)

Occurrence

The number of new cases each year of FAS and FAE are significantly
underreported, therefore it is difficult to obtain accurate findings. “The
incidence of FAS is estimated at 1-2 per 1,000 live births whereas FAE is
estimated to occur in 3-5 per 1,000 live births.”(Timberlake and Birch, p.2)
According to the Centers for Disease Control\'s(CDC), Birth Defects Monitoring
Program (BDMP), “FAS is difficult to recognize in newborns for three reasons:
1)Facial stigmata of FAS are often subtle; 2)Some types of CNS deficits in
infants are difficult to detect; 3)The birth weight of some affected infants is
normal.”(Abel and Sokol, p.1) Symptoms become more noticeable with age.
According to statistics, 44% of chronic alcoholics have affected children: 50%
of these children will be mentally retarded and 30% will have physical
malformations. (Harris, p.98) If a pregnant woman drinks 1-2 ounces