Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is perhaps one of the most common mental disorders in today’s world. The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is extremely risky and can sometimes lead to various physical, neurological, and mental conditions that can range in severity.  These disorders fall under the category head of “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)”, out of which the most common one is the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE).

Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) can also be separated into two different categories: Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

The Cognitive Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Although this is a very serious and common syndrome all over, it is, however, a hundred percent preventable. The effects of this disorder are irreversible and can sometimes even last a lifetime if precautions are not taken.

The effects of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome include mental retardation, malformations of the skeletal system and other major organ systems, (especially the heart and the brain), inhabited growth, central nervous system complications, poor motor skills, mortality, difficulty with learning, difficulty in remembering things, developing as an introvert, difficulties with social interactions, a less attention span, difficulties with problem-solving, difficulties with speech and/ or hearing.

There are also several other facial and physical features that are quite evident with babies who are diagnosed with the FAS. These could include small eyes, short and an upturned nose, thin lips, flat cheeks. If that is not all the child will have to face several other difficulties as they grow up.

The Cognitive Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

What are Fetal Alcohol Effects

There are two categories for Fetal Alcohol Effects. These are Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND): This describes the mental and behavioral impairments such as learning disabilities, poor performance in school, poor impulse control, difficulty in remembering things, a short attention span, and poor cases of making decisions and judgments.
  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD): This describes the malformations of the skeletal system and its main organ systems such as the heart, kidneys, bones, and hearing and speaking disabilities.

Physical defects of FAE

Physical defects may include

  • Distinctive facial features, small eyes, thin upper lip, a short upturned nose, and a differently smooth skin surface between the nose and the upper lip.
  • The child may face deformities of joints, limbs, and fingers.
  • The child may suffer from delayed, slow physical growth before and after birth.
  • The child has a higher risk of suffering from vision difficulties or hearing problems.
  • The child could have a small head circumference and a smaller brain size.
  • Might suffer from various organ deformities, like heart defects and problems with the kidneys and bone.

The Brain and Central Nervous System Problems

The brain and Central Nervous System might be affected too. The common problems are-

  • The child may develop poor coordination and balance.
  • The child may have an intellectual disability, learning disorders, and a delay in their development.
  • The child may suffer from poor memory.
  • The child could have trouble paying attention and processing information.
  • Can have difficulty in reasoning and solving problems.
  • The child can have difficulty in identifying consequences and in making choices.
  • The child can develop poor judgemental skills.
  • The child can suffer from jitteriness and hyperactivity.
  • The child can have frequent mood swings.

Social and Behavioural problems

Social and Behavioural issues may include-

  • The child may face difficulty in school.
  • The child may find it troublesome in getting along with other kids.
  • The child may face poor social skills.
  • The child may have a lot of trouble adapting to changes
  • The child may find it difficult to shift from one task to another.
  • Parents may encounter some behavior problems and impulse control.
  • The child may have a poor concept of time.
  • The child may face problems staying on task.
  • The child may find simple planning difficult
  • Working towards a goal will seem like a tedious task to the child.

Fetal Alcohol Effects

What causes FAS and FAE

If you are pregnant and you consume alcohol,

  • Alcohol gets into your bloodstream and reaches your developing fetus by crossing the placenta.
  • Here the alcohol causes a higher blood alcohol concentration in your developing baby than in your body. This is because a fetus metabolizes alcohol slower than an adult does.
  • The alcohol interferes with the delivery of oxygen and optimal nutrition in your developing baby.
  • Exposing the fetus to alcohol before birth can harm the tissues and organs which are still in the development stage and can cause permanent damage to the baby.

How much alcohol can you drink?

There is no amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy. The more the alcohol consumed during pregnancy, the more is the risk to your developing baby. Your baby’s heart, brain and blood vessels begin to develop in the early weeks of pregnancy even before you may know you are pregnant.

Impairment of facial features, the heart, the brain and other organs, including the bones and the Central Nervous System can be caused because of drinking during the first trimester. This is the phase where the parts of the fetus are still in the key stages of their development. However, the risk is always there no matter what stage of pregnancy you may be.

How is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome different from Fetal Alcohol Effects?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is caused due to a high level of Alcohol dosage consumption during pregnancy such as binge drinking and/ or even drinking on a regular basis. Fetal Alcohol Effects are the result of moderate drinking right through pregnancy. However, the results of both FAS and FAE are irreversible and can even stay for life.

Conclusion

The prevention of this deformity is absolutely simple- Do not drink when you are pregnant!

If you have not stopped drinking, stop as soon as you have become pregnant- even if you think you might be pregnant. It is never too late to give up drinking, but the sooner you stop, the better it is for your developing baby. Get help for your alcohol problem if you have any before getting pregnant, so as to develop a treatment plan and a safer growth environment for your fetus.

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