Fetal alcohol syndrome The 1990s is witnessing the significant impact alcohol-related birth defects are having on our society. These birth defects are caused by maternal use of alcohol during pregnancy which are irreversible, yet preventable. The most severe outcome, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), to the less easily diagnosed fetal alcohol effects (FAE). The incidence of FAS is estimated at .33 per 1,000 live births. The estimated incidence of FAE is three times that of FAS. With an annual cost of $76.4 million in the United States which only includes FAS, not FAE. The bulk of these costs are associated with mental retardation. It impacts the family, education system, health system and social services in general, as well as individual losses. FAS is considered the most common known cause of mental retardation in the Western World. For a positive diagnosis of FAS, in addition to a history of maternal alcohol use during pregnancy, each of the following three categories must be present: 1.
slow growth before and after birth including weight, height and/or head circumference, 2. facial dysmorphology such as thin upper lip, flattened philtrum, and/or short openings between eyelids, and 3. damage to the central nervous system.
Diagnosis can be difficult because many of the critical diagnostic features change with age. It is most difficult to diagnose in newborns and adults. Reaching an FAE diagnosis is even more difficult because only some of the symptoms are present, and possibly not as visible. This disorder cannot be detected by genetic testing because the damage is done after the baby is born.
It is not known how much a pregnant woman can safely drink without damaging the fetus, although heavier drinking increases the likelihood of damage. Also, there does not seem to be any time during pregnancy when it is safe to...