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Pregnancy Issues


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During pregnancy, women become more conscious of a healthy lifestyle which includes eating well, exercising and abstaining from alcohol. Alcohol can affect the development of the fetus which may cause difficulties during the pregnancy or after the birth. Preterm delivery, and particularly "extreme prematurity" -- defined as less than 32 weeks of gestation -- are major contributors to perinatal sickness and death worldwide. A new study has found that maternal alcohol use during pregnancy can contribute to a substantial increase in risk for extreme preterm delivery.1

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most common known preventable cause of mental impairment. Babies with FAS have distinctive changes in their facial features and they may be born small. The brain damage that occurs with FAS can result in lifelong problems with learning, memory, attention, and problem solving. These alcohol-related changes in the brain may be present even in babies whose appearance and growth are not affected. It is not known if there is any safe drinking level during pregnancy; nor is there any stage of pregnancy in which drinking – at any level – is known to be risk free. If a woman is pregnant, or wants to become pregnant, she should not drink alcohol. Even if she is pregnant and already has consumed alcohol, it is important to stop drinking for the rest of her pregnancy. Stopping can reduce the chances that her child might be harmed by alcohol.2

FAS is a devastating birth defect characterized by craniofacial malformations, neurological and motor deficits, intrauterine growth retardation, learning disabilities, and behavioral and social deficits. FAS is one of the most serious consequences of heavy drinking during pregnancy. However, negative outcomes of prenatal alcohol exposure cover a broad range of human structures and functions and there is great variability in the severity of the deficits. The scope of disabilities and malformation varies and depends on such exposure factors as amount of alcohol, frequency of exposure, stage of development when alcohol is present, and probably individual variation in sensitivity and both maternal and fetal alcohol metabolism. The umbrella term "Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)" is now used to characterize the full range of prenatal alcohol damage varying from mild to severe and encompassing a broad array of physical defects and cognitive, behavioral, and emotional deficits. It refers to conditions such as: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), including partial FAS (pFAS); Fetal alcohol effects (FAE); Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND); and Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).3

FASD is the leading known preventable cause of mental retardation and birth defects. It affects 1 in 100 live births or as many as 40,000 infants each year. An individual with fetal alcohol syndrome can incur a lifetime health cost of over $800,000. Children do not outgrow FASD. The physical and behavioral problems can last for a lifetime. FAS and FASD are not genetic disorders and are found in all racial and socio-economic groups. Women with FAS or affected by FASD have healthy babies if they do not drink alcohol during their pregnancy.4

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can adversely affect the development of the fetus, resulting in lifelong medical consequences. Only recently have researchers begun to evaluate how prenatal alcohol exposure can affect a child's school and, later, work performance. Drs. Paul D. Connor and Ann P. Streissguth discuss the changes occurring in the brain that lead to impaired attention, intelligence, memory, motor coordination, complex problem-solving, and abstract thinking. These cognitive deficits create long-standing emotional and physiological problems. The authors conclude by discussing prevention and treatment strategies to counter the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure.5

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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