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Ask the Doc: FASD

Ask-the-Doc-FASDFetal alcohol spectrum disorders is an umbrella encompassing fetal alcohol effects, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, and alcohol-related birth defects. These occur to infants when mothers drink excessively in pregnancy and may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. Each year in the U.S., as many as 40,000 babies are born with an FAS. Cost to the nation for FAS alone is about $6 billion a year. These conditions are more common than autism, the leading causes of mental retardation and entirely preventable. Drinking during pregnancy occurs in 12%. Nearly 16% of under-18 pregnant women drink at least 4 drinks 6 days a month, but most do not know that this is dangerous to the fetus, and many are drinking before they even know the are pregnant and when the damage may be done. But alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or cocaine. Fetal blood alcohol reaches levels higher than the mother’s, so binge drinking is especially dangerous, though there is no known safe lower limit. One problem is that people vastly underestimate their drinking size, yet tend to pour drinks 3-6 times standard size.

Disabilities include lowered IQ, impaired ability in reading, spelling and arithmetic, attention deficits and a lower level of adaptive functioning. Kids can be friendly, but gullible and have difficulties generalizing insights. Cognitive rigidity can make them appear oppositional and stubborn. Sensory integration deficits can leave kids either sensitive and irritable, or numb and accident prone. All this can be a set-up for kids to feel a failure and a problem. Home stability, and early sensitive intervention can make all the difference. Later, teaching planning, coping skills and family communication skills may make all the difference. Of course, prevention is the best cure, and campaigns to reduce drinking in pregnancy, and before women might know they are pregnant, are occurring in many settings.

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