First of all, I want to tell you all that it was a struggle for me to decide that this would be my choice for the letter ‘F’ in my A to Z month of children’s chronic illnesses. It breaks my heart that this is a one hundred percent preventable disorder. There is no judgement here. What I am sharing are the facts.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is within a group of disorders called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder of which it is the most severe. The children born with this syndrome may have problems with vision, hearing, memory, attention span, and abilities to learn, or all of those mentioned. The defects are unique to each child and the damage is often permanent. I would be remiss if, within the definition, I did not speak about the cause. When alcohol is consumed by the mother, it crosses from the mother’s blood to the baby’s blood. There are some things that can not penetrate the placental barrier. Unfortunately, alcohol is not one of them. The body of a developing baby does not process alcohol in the same way that an adult’s does. The alcohol is more concentrated in the fetus and can prevent enough nutrition and oxygen from getting to the vital organs, especially the heart and the brain. Even a small amount of alcohol, as in ‘social drinking’ can damage the fetus, and it can be done in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Nobody knows how much it would take to do damage, but doctors do know that the risk increases with moderate to heavy drinking and with bingeing. It is important to remember that any type of alcohol may cause birth defects.
An early diagnosis may increase a positive outcome for the child. The mother must be honest with the doctors and tell them if she has been drinking during the pregnancy. Although fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is not a clinical diagnosis, it is a term that refers to a large range of effects in a child that has been exposed to alcohol as a fetus. The effects include physical, mental, behavioral and/or learning disabilities. FASD is a term used to include a number of diagnosis such as, FAS, partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental conditions and others. When the doctor performs a physical on the newborn, he may hear a heart murmur or find signs of other heart problems. As the baby matures, there could be other signs that help to confirm a diagnosis, such as: a slow rate of growth, a unique group of abnormal facial features ( small eyes, smooth philtrum – the vertical groove above the lip – a thin upper lip, and slower than normal growth.) If the child has the classic facial features, the other symptoms are usually present and the child is diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. If the child does not have the unique facial anomalies, other symptoms may be present. That is when the other types are diagnosed.
Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is when a child has some, but not all, of the growth deficiencies or facial features of FAS, as well as the central nervous system damage. The children that did not exhibit any growth deficiencies or facial anomalies, but did have central nervous system damage and prenatal alcohol exposure are given the diagnosis of Alcohol Related Neurodevelopment Disorders (ARND).
There is no cure or specific medical treatment for FAS. The doctor may recommend hearing and vision testing, as well as testing for other medical problems that are related to FAS.
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