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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

By: Janet Turnere

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome By: Saje102 E-mail: Many pregnant women are not aware of the complications that are involved with pregnancy. The greater majority of young women see pregnancy as a way of bringing a life into the world but do not use precaution in their dietary habits to prevent the destruction or inhibition of such a life. Most pregnant women continue on their drinking and drug abuse binge right throughout their pregnancy. They do not think ahead to the inexplicable damage that it could do to their fetus. What they do not know is that when a woman drinks while pregnant it could do damage, and pose problems not only to herself, but to the fetus that she is carrying. The problem? FAS, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. According to many physicians it is the leading cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the United States today. Douglas A. Milligan states that, "FAS is the single greatest cause of mental retardation in the U.S. today". ( Seachrist, p. 314) Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was first named and treated and found in the late 1960's. This condition results from the toxic effect of alcohol and its chemical factors on the developing fetus and its brain. The alcohol enters the bloodstream though the placenta and then the damage begins to occur. FAS consists of a characteristic pattern of abnormalities resulting from the exposure that the fetus has had with alcohol during early development. There have been many reports linking alcohol use and fetal deficiencies in growth that emerged from France in the late 1950's. Not until the 1960's was the correlation made between the number of defects and the increasing amount of babies born with the syndrome. The term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was coined to describe the pattern of the abnormalities found in some children born to alcoholic women. It clearly was very noticeable and distinctive in the recognition of itself and was distinct from all other patterns of malformation in the fetus; there was a significant association found between the alcohol consumption rates during pregnancy and a lower general cognitive index of these children. Being further studied in the 1970's under the heading as a birth defect that occurs, FAS was one of the most common causes of birth defects. Researchers said that it occurred in almost 1 of every 500 to 1 in every thousand births.( Seachrist, p. 314) There is a major thing that causes difficulty in the diagnosis of this disorder though, its main diagnosis hinges on the obvious facial abnormalities, short stature, and low IQ. Children who do not meet all of these factors are diagnosed with FAE, Fetal Alcohol Effect, a milder form of FAS. There are general abnormalities which affect both forms of the disease. These abnormalities include a deficiency in growth, a pattern of malformation affecting the face, heart, and urinary tract. There are abnormalities within the brain that lead to various intellectual and behavioral problems in early childhood, as well as problems within the central nervous system. As I stated before many factors do play a role in the development of FAS in an infant. The most prominent among these are the frequency and the quantity of maternal alcohol consumption during the pregnancy. The timing of the gestation of alcohol is what determines the level of abnormalities that occur. The stage of development at which alcohol consumption takes place and that in correlation to the gestation period, nutritional status, and genetic background all play parts in the development of the baby and its defects. The alcohol that is being consumed does have an effect on the cellular and molecular development of the fetus and that is what generally underlies the development of FAS. There are specifics in diagnosing that doctors look for in treating a patient for FAS. First of all the eyes are the most common and consistent sign of FAS, the eyelids especially. Children often appear to have widely spaced eyes but measurements reveal that they are spaced apart normally. This disparity in sight is caused by short "fissures (eye openings)". The distance between the inner and outer corners of each eye is palpebral shortened making the eyes appear smaller and farther apart than normal. Following the downward pattern, the next common facial defect in children of FAS/FAE is slow growth in the center of the face. This produces an underdeveloped midface and the zone between the eye and the mouth may seem to be flattened or depressed and in congruence the bridge of the nose is often very low. As a result of slow nose growth, the nose tends to point forward and downward in that same respect. ( Aase, p.5) Subtle but still a characteristic feature is the philtrum, the area between the nose and the mouth. Characterized by a vertical midline groove, bordered by two vertical ridges of the skin, where the grooves meet the red margin of the upper lip it forms a "cupid's bow". In the development of the FAS child there is a long, smooth philtrum without the ridges that should be there coupled with a smoothly arched upper lip margin. Where as the facial abnormalities are very obvious when looked for the abnormalities of the limbs and joints are less consistent. These include deformities of the small joints of the hands as well as an incomplete rotation at the elbow. ( Aase, p.5) Looking inwardly to the problems that may occur children with FAS are also for the most part stricken with a increased risk for many common birth defects. Of these chronic defects include congenial heart disease, anomalities of the urinary tract and genitals, and spina bifida. These aforementioned abnormalities are not specific to FAS but coupled with FAS characteristics they help to provide a more clear and concise diagnosis. There were many reports of behavioral and intellectual trouble in all the children that have thus been diagnosed. Beginning with infancy, the children have problems at feeding and are highly irritable. They also exhibit unpredictable sleeping and eating patterns which make it hard for the baby to be cared for and for maternal bonding to occur. During development, both physical and mental, FAS children have very fine and poor motor coordination skills and it becomes very apparent at the preschool age. They also are very affectionate but at the same time very hyperactive, which makes it a problem for the teachers who have them in class to deal with. This is why they are, during the first few years of school, given the diagnosis of having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); this diagnosis is given because of their high activity level, short attention span, and poor short-term memory. Many of these children require special education help regardless of the fact that their IQ falls between the normal range.



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