Fetal alcohol syndrome is an alcohol use disorder that is classified as the most severe type of the disorders on the fetal alcohol spectrum. While the condition is relatively rare and affects approximately 200,000 babies annually, the consequences of the disease can be lifelong and widespread. As with other spectrum disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome affects each child differently. Available treatments provide symptom management, but the damage caused by the syndrome cannot be reversed.
Causes of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs when a mother consumes alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. While alcohol use during the first three months of pregnancy is particularly harmful, using alcohol at any time during a pregnancy, in any amount, is unsafe and can cause damage to the unborn baby. Alcohol restricts the amount of nutrition and oxygen that the fetus can absorb, resulting in serious birth defects and lifelong challenges for the child.
Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
This syndrome generally has a range of widespread effects across several body systems. Physical symptoms may include cardiovascular, renal, bone, and joint problems. The child may have abnormalities in the fingers or limbs, and his or her head may be smaller than is typical. Facial differences such as an unusually thin upper lip and small, wide-set eyes may be present. The child may be underweight and of shorter stature than his or her peers. Hearing and vision concerns could arise. Mentally, the child may have learning difficulties, which could potentially be severe, and he or she may have delayed speech and difficulty making decisions. Hyperactivity is often present.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome can be made with a physical exam and observations. The physical exam may reveal heart murmurs or other heart abnormalities. The physician will also follow the child’s growth to determine if he or she is growing at a slower rate than would be expected. As the child ages, his or her speech can be assessed to determine if there are any delays in language acquisition. The doctor will observe the patient’s behavior patterns to assess whether there are any attention issues.
Treatment for this alcohol use disorder typically includes a combination of therapies depending on the specific needs of the child. Speech therapists, special education teachers, social workers, and counselors can assist patients and their families with improving quality of life and managing symptoms. While no specific medications are available for this disorder, antidepressants and stimulants can benefit those patients who struggle with behavioral issues and hyperactivity as a result of the syndrome.
The only way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is to abstain from alcohol for the duration of pregnancy. Your family doctor, a therapist, and substance abuse treatment centers can all provide confidential, non-judgmental support to anyone who has concerns about their use of alcohol.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to alcohol and fear you won’t be able to stop during a pregnancy, please call a SoCal Detox addiction specialist today. The consultation is free, and the information you get could make a difference for a lifetime. Call now: tel:888-590-0777.