Fatal syndrome

Would-be-mothers drinking themselves merry can cause serious birth clefects to the child in the womb

Published: Thursday 30 November 1995

WHILE an alcoholic mother-to-be guzzles her drinks happily, the child in the womb bears the brunt. Heavy drinking during pregnancy plays havoc with the normal development of the foetus, setting in a set of birth defects called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Although identified first in 1968, FAS remains an enigma for researchers even to this day, reports News from National Research Council, September 21, 1995.

How alcohol affects the foetus, what is the exact threshhold at which alcohol consumption becomes risky, how to treat children born with this syndrome, and how to prevent FAS - these are some of the basic questions worrying the medical community. Against this background, the suggestions offered by researchers at the us-based Institute of Medicine regarding the treatment and prevention of the syndrome, are welcorne steps towards tackling this preventable malady.

FAS is a broad range of physical and owntal abnormalities, induced in the unborn children by mothers who adulge in "excessive drinking, characswised by substantial, regular drinking or heavy episodic drinking", as put by a committee set by the Institute of Medicine, to delve into the intricacies of @he syndrome. FAs affects the child suba y resu Ing in symp oms rang- a from low birth weight to long-term our and learning problems.

Dia'gnostic measures adopted dy do not include only investiga into the relationship between the r's pattern of alcohol consumpand mental malfunctioning in the The new diagnostic criteria advocated by the committee involves grouping of affected children for the first time, into categories depending on their exposure to alcohol in the womb. Further, the categories shall clearly indicate the degree of a child's physical or mental abnormalities, or both. Such specific diagnosis could help identify children who need immediate care and treatment. "FAS is a classic example of a ,family problem," was the statement made by the chairman of the committee, Frederick C Battaglia, which provides a crucial insight into the nature of the syndrome. The question as to why some women continue to drink heavily during pregnancy calls for an intervention by the women's families, health professionals and community at large, to-encourage pregnant women not to drink. The report rightly stresses that the prevention techniques should target everyone, "not simply the mother and child". To deal with hardened addicts, the report offers a set of notable suggestions to the health professionals. It asks to identify moderate to heavy drinkers during pregnancy and refer them for treatment. Interestingly, incorrigible abusers are thought to be fit for reproductive counseling and contraceptive services. The message is that if the attempt to change their deep-rooted habit fails, prevent them from conceiving the child in the first place.

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