Feto-alcoholic syndrome: what it is, how to recognize it and how to prevent it

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Feto-alcoholic syndrome: what it is

La fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) is a disease of the fetus-newborn, which encompasses a set of physical, behavioral and neurological problems that can occur in a fetus exposed to alcohol and which can have lifelong implications, with very high personal, family and social costs.
We analyze the causes, consequences, treatments and prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome.

In this article

  • Consumption of alcohol in pregnancy 
  • Feto-alcoholic syndrome: the causes 
  • Feto-alcoholic syndrome: the consequences
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome: how to treat it
  • Feto-alcoholic syndrome: how it is prevented 
Read also: Alcohol and pregnancy, 10 things to know

Consumption of alcohol in pregnancy

The high frequency of the alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy it is quite a common problem and emphasizes the need to educate all women of reproductive age about potentials harmful effects of alcohol exposure on the developing fetus.
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

The alcohol ingested by the mother arrives after a few minutes in the blood of the fetus, but the fetus cannot metabolize the alcohol because it lacks the enzymes suitable for this task, consequently alcohol and its metabolites accumulate in its nervous system and in other organs by damaging them.
Alcohol affects fetal growth and development in all stages of pregnancy, guidelines and national and international medical societies absolutely recommendcomplete abstinence during pregnancy.
This eliminates the risk of alcohol-related birth defects and developmental disabilities, including neurocognitive and behavioral problems. 

Feto-alcoholic syndrome: the causes

Alcohol taken during pregnancy it can induce malformations of the fetus with irreversible effects on the central nervous system.
Le brain abnormalities include a reduced global brain volume, with reductions and dysfunctions in some important for neuro-intellectual and motor functions, such as:

  • the frontal lobe
  • the striatum and caudate nuclei
  • the thalamus and cerebellum
  • the corpus callosum
  • the amygdala

These areas affect it cognitive development, memory, learning, motor coordination and the perception of time. The problems caused by exposure to alcohol vary from child to child, but the defects caused by fetal alcohol syndrome are not reversible.

Read also: I did not know I was pregnant and I drank alcohol. What risks?

Feto-alcoholic syndrome: the consequences

The consequences of the fetal alcohol syndrome mainly include alterations in the shape (dysmorphism) of the face (narrow eyelid slits, short flat nose, thin bright red upper lip, poor jaw and mandible development), central nervous system abnormality (CNS) e growth retardation.

Exposure to alcohol before birth can cause physical defects as:

  • Deformity of joints, limbs and fingers
  • Slow physical growth before and after birth
  • Visual difficulties or hearing problems
  • Small head circumference and brain size
  • Heart defects and kidney and bone problems

Problems with the brain and central nervous system:

  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Intellectual disability, learning disabilities and delayed development
  • Poor memory
  • Problems with attention and information processing
  • Difficulty in reasoning and problem solving
  • Difficulty identifying the consequences of choices
  • Poor judgment skills
  • Nervousness or hyperactivity
  • Rapidly changing moods

Social and behavioral problems:

  • Difficulty in school
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • Poor social skills
  • Difficulty adapting to change or switching from one activity to another
  • Problems with behavior and impulse control
  • Poor understanding of the concept of time
  • Trouble keeping the task assigned
  • Difficulty planning or working towards a goal

Fetal alcohol syndrome: how to treat it

Children with suspected fetal alcohol syndrome should be referred to a qualified team of specialists for an evaluation that includes examination of facial features e neuro-behavioral evaluation of child.
This team may include pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists, clinical geneticists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and educational therapists.

Read also: 9 September: world day of fetal alcoholic syndrome

Feto-alcoholic syndrome: how it is prevented

  • Don't drink alcohol if you're trying to get pregnant. If you haven't already stopped drinking, stop as soon as you know you are pregnant or if you think you are pregnant. It is never too late to stop drinking during pregnancy, but the sooner you stop, the better for your baby.
  • Continue to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Fetus-alcoholic syndrome is completely preventable in babies whose mothers do not drink during pregnancy.
  • Consider giving up alcohol during the pregnancy years if you are sexually active and having unprotected sex. Many pregnancies are unplanned and damage can occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
  •  If you have an alcohol problem, ask for help before getting pregnant. Seek professional help in determining your level of alcohol addiction and developing a treatment plan.

Other sources for this article:

Mayo Clinic: Fetal alcohol syndrome

CDC: Basics about FASDs

Ministry of Health: the fetal alcohol syndrome

Epicenter.ISS: Fetal alcohol syndrome

Infant Jesus Hospital: Fetal Alcoholic Syndrome

Is a glass of wine allowed during pregnancy?

An Italian-Spanish study investigated the awareness of neonatologists and pediatricians about the danger of alcohol in pregnancy and found that, although over 60% of Del Paeseni professionals and around 80% of Spanish professionals defined themselves as aware of this, about half of the first and 40% of the latter admitted having allowed pregnant women a glass of wine or beer on occasion.

Read also: Alcohol in pregnancy: to be banned or not?

Questions and answers

If you are pregnant, can you drink a glass of wine on special occasions?  

Alcohol intake during pregnancy, even occasionally, should be avoided, as there is no scientific evidence on a certain amount that is safe for the fetus.

During pregnancy, are cakes or sweets that contain small quantities of wine / bitters etc. in the ingredients also prohibited?   

The quantity of alcohol commonly present in sweets is minimal and therefore not harmful to the fetus.

  • pregnancy feeding
  • alcohol
  • fetal alcohol syndrome
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