Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) refers to a group of conditions which can affect a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. The disorders may vary from mild to severe, and they can affect different systems in the body. The most severe form of FASD is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) which is the permanent deficit affecting a person’s vision, hearing, memory, attention span, and learning and social capabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of 1,000 live-born infants in the US has FAS.
One of the most common symptoms of FAS is problems with growth and development. This is seen as soon as the baby is delivered, as most babies with FASD are born below the 10th percentile in height and weight. Many babies with FASD are also reported to have a smaller head size than the average baby. As the child ages, his growth rate may be slower than the average child.
Babies born with FAS often exhibit unusual or abnormal facial features. These symptoms may indicate brain damage. Although, brain damage can be present without abnormal facial features. According to the CDC, one of such abnormalities in FASD babies is a smooth ridge between the nose and the upper lip. The other two features include a thin upper lip and decreased eye width. Facial abnormalities depend on the severity of the condition facial features.
Central nervous system problems are the symptoms which affect a person the most, and a defining feature of a FAS diagnosis. CNS problems can vary based on the amount, timing, and frequency of exposure to alcohol. The problems can include structural abnormalities of the brain and neurological and functional impairments. Structural abnormalities may include a small head, differences in the growth and organization of brain cells, or damage to the hippocampus. Neurological impairments can include conditions like epilepsy or seizure disorder, and other symptoms like impaired fine motor skills, clumsiness, and impairment in judgment. Functional impairments can present as learning disabilities, low IQ, abnormal social perception, impairment in memory or attention, and many other things.
According to the CDC, 60% of those 12 years and older that have FAS have been removed from school at some point. They may have mild to severe problems due to CNS damage that can affect one or many areas. They may include problems with cognition, executive functioning, motor functioning, attention and hyperactive problems, and many other things. These problems can affect learning, retention, and ability to get along with peers.
The symptoms of FAS include vision and hearing loss. A person may experience one or both of these. These symptoms can make daily functions even more challenging for someone with FAS.
Among those diagnosed with FAS, 60% have been in trouble with the law and 50% have exhibited inappropriate sexual behavior. Also, most people with FAS will never live independently. The social implications of a FAS are lifelong. CNS damage can affect a person’s impulse control, social perception, communication, and judgment. This can cause a person to become a social outcast, or to end up in trouble with the law.
FAS can affect inner organs and bones. These problems are not diagnostic criteria for FAS but relate to alcohol-related congenital disabilities. A baby with FAS may be born with a heart murmur that often disappears by the age of one. A person with FAS may have bone or joint abnormalities which may or may not affect daily functioning. There may also be damage to the kidneys including aplastic, dysplastic, or hypoplastic kidneys in those with FAS.
There is no cure for FAS. With early diagnosis and intervention, a person may have a better chance of developing . The best care for a child with FAS is to address each symptom. Medication can help problems with memory, attention, anxiety, and learning. Stimulants may help with focus and hyperactivity, allowing a child to learn in school. Ongoing counseling and one-on-one tutoring can help behavioral issues
The most tragic thing about FAS is that it is totally preventable. Women who are planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant should avoid alcohol. Alcohol-related damage can occur very early in pregnancy—even before a woman knows she is pregnant. If you wish to get pregnant and you have a drinking problem, seek help from a medical professional.
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