THE PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF FETAL ALCOHOL SPECTRUM DISORDER
“Alcohol consumed during pregnancy increases the risk of alcohol related birth defects.”—Surgeon General’s Advisory on Alcohol Use in Pregnancy, February 21, 2005
Alcohol is a teratogen, a substance that can harm a fetus. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes through her blood and enters the fetus through the placenta. Its harmful effects may be seen in virtually every part of the fetus, including the brain, face, heart, liver, kidneys, eyes, ears, and bones. These effects can affect a person’s health for a lifetime.
WHAT IS FASD? “Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders” (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. The term FASD is not a clinical diagnosis. It refers to conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-relate neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). In the United States, FASD occurs in about 10 per 1,000 live births, or 40,000 babies per year.1
HOW DOES FASD AFFECT A PERSON’S HEALTH? The effects of FASD vary widely from person to person. Difficulties in an individual’s ability to succeed at home, school, work, and in social situations may arise at different ages. For many people with an FASD, brain damage is the most serious effect. It may result in cognitive and behavior problems. One obvious sign of brain damage in some babies born with FAS is a small head. We call this condition microcephaly .Individuals with FAS may have facial anomalies such as small eye openings, a smooth philtrum (groove under the nose), and a thin upper lip. When a person has all three features, together they are a sign of FAS. Other features, sometimes seen in persons with FAS, include a short nose, a flat mid-face, or a small upper jaw. However, people who do not have FAS can also have these features, so they are not by themselves a sign of FAS.
Due to damage by exposure to alcohol in the womb, babies with an FASD may be born small and underweight. Some have difficulty nursing or eating and their growth continues to lag, resulting in failure to thrive. Some infants with an FASD may also have tremors, seizures, excessive irritability, and sleep problems. Physical effects of FASD may include heart defects, such as a hole in the wall of the heart that separates its chambers. Other effects are skeletal defects, such as fused bones in the arms, fingers, hands, and toes. People with an FASD may also have vision and hearing problems, kidney and liver defects, and dental abnormalities. Alcohol can damage the developing fetus from the earliest weeks through the end of the pregnancy. Other factors associated with women who drink during pregnancy are poor nutrition and lack of prenatal care. These factors may also affect organ and skeletal development. Researchers still have many questions about the impact of prenatal alcohol exposure.
From: www.Samhsa.gov “The Physical Effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders”