Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can give rise to anomalies of varying severity that affect the fetus at a physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral and functional level and subsequently the affected child, adolescent or adult.
The term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder refers to the set of anomalies that a child may present due to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. When the symptoms or consequences are severe, it is called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Effects of alcohol
Alcohol crosses the placenta without any difficulty. At two hours, the fetus has the same level of alcohol in the blood as its mother , but with the difference that the damage caused by alcohol in a central nervous system that is in full development is irreversible.
In addition, the fetus has more difficulty in eliminating alcohol than the mother in eliminating it. Much of the alcohol that the fetus defecates does so through the urinary route and the intrauterine fetus urinates in the amniotic fluid and also ingests it, therefore, it is constantly re -poisoned without being able to get rid of alcohol.
- In severe cases it can cause fetal death .
- In the first trimester there is a higher risk of spontaneous abortion and facial anomalies such as short palpebral fissures (decrease in the horizontal diameter of the eye), thin upper lip, absence or softening of the groove between the nose and the lip.
- Brain and behavioral disorders , such as mental retardation and microcephaly , can occur . It can affect other organs such as the heart, kidney, bones, and visual and hearing capacity.
- It usually causes fetal growth retardation, with low birth weight and growth in the low or pathological percentiles throughout childhood.
Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Symptoms can range from very mild to very severe, and central nervous system impairment may not be apparent in the first few years of life and may take time to diagnose.
Some mild cases present only behavioral problems , which are the most frequent, present in 70% of affected children. Within these behavioral problems we can find:
- Sleep or mood disorders
- Decreased memory capacity
- Difficulties in motor coordination
- Impulsivity and/or disinhibition
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Learning delay and difficulties in abstract reasoning and the use of pragmatic language.
All these problems can result in school failure , legal problems, inappropriate sexual behavior, abuse of toxic substances, alcohol and drugs, higher crime rates and difficulties in accessing the world of work.
Three criteria must be met for the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome :
- Prenatal and/or postnatal growth retardation.
- Presence of the three typical facial signs.
- Presence of any of the associated neurological deficits.
Given these three criteria, full Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can be diagnosed even if there is no maternal confirmation of alcohol intake.
Can it be treated?
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders have no cure , but there are multiple support therapies to get the most out of these children, so early diagnosis is important.
With training for both parents and children, behavioral modification techniques, educational interventions and support in schools and families, the prognosis of these children can be improved . Diagnosis is also very important so that it does not recur in subsequent pregnancies, identifying the problem and encouraging mothers to stop drinking alcohol.