FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME

Overview

Do you think it’s safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy? Put on your thinking cap because consuming alcohol during pregnancy can be detrimental to the normal development of your baby. You put your baby at a great risk if you drink alcohol when you are pregnant. The safe dose of alcohol during pregnancy is still debatable so it is obviously better to be on the safe side and completely avoid it for the well-being of your baby.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition characterized by a pattern of birth defects which affects a baby exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes through the umbilical cord to the baby. Alcohol also crosses the blood brain barrier thus, there is an association between maternal alcohol ingestion and congenital abnormalities.

There’s a complex cluster of about 20,000 nerves located within a small area in the hypothalamus (part of the brain that controls hormone secretions as well as involuntary bodily functions). This area seems to control the circadian clock within our brain with alterations as night approaches. This prompts us as humans that it’s time to go to bed.

HOW DOES IT OCCUR?

Alcohol crosses the blood placenta barrier and reaches the fetus. The body of a fetus metabolizes alcohol slower than an adult therefore it causes higher blood alcohol concentrations in your baby. Delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the developing fetus is impaired due to the presence of high alcohol blood levels in the fetus. Again, alcohol crosses the blood brain barrier as well. This can lead to the underdevelopment of tissues and organs, thus can lead to permanent brain damage.

Symptoms

It is important to note that the severity of fetal alcoholic syndrome varies as some children experience them to a greater magnitude than others. There may be brain and central nervous problems and physical anomalies.

Brain and spinal cord defects may include:

*Difficulty with problem solving and reasoning

*Intellectual disabilities and growth deficiencies

*General cognitive deficits

*Mental retardation

*Hyperactivity and anxiety

*Rapid mood swings

*Speech delays

 Physical anomalies may include:

*Small head circumference

*Indistinct philtrum (groove between nose and upper lip)

*Deformities of limbs, joints and fingers

*Low body weight

*Low nasal bridge and short nose

*Hearing and vision problems

*Heart defects

PREVENTION OF FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME

The only sure way of preventing fetal alcohol syndrome is not taking any form of alcoholic beverage during pregnancy

TREATMENT

There are no medications to treat fetal alcoholic syndrome. It is irreversible; however, the symptoms can be managed.

*Behavioral and educational therapy can go a long way to help manage the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

*Antidepressants may be administered for aggression, mood swings, irritability and anti-social behaviors.

*Stimulants for hyperactivity, anxiety, poor impulse control among others.

*Anti-anxiety drugs for anxiety symptoms

COMPLICATIONS OF FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME

*ADHD (Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder) – a mental disorder which is characterized by difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness which is not appropriate for a person’s age.

*Mental Health issues e.g. depression

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

See a doctor if you have an alcohol problem before you get pregnant. Early diagnosis may help prevent the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome from getting complicated.