Toronto | Mothers-to-be, take note! Consuming alcohol during pregnancy may expose your baby to the risk of 428 distinct disease conditions linked to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a new study has warned. FASD is a broad term describing the range of disabilities that can occur in individuals as a result of alcohol exposure before birth. We’ve systematically identified numerous disease conditions co-occurring with FASD, which underscores the fact that it is not safe to drink any amount or type of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy, despite the conflicting messages the public may hear, said lead author Lana Popova, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Canada.
The severity and symptoms of FASD vary, based on how much and when alcohol was consumed, as well as other factors in the mother’s life such as stress levels, nutrition and environmental influences. The 428 co-occurring conditions were identified from 127 studies, the researchers said. These disease conditions affect nearly every system of the body including the central nervous system (brain), vision, hearing, cardiac, circulation, digestion, and musculoskeletal and respiratory systems, among others.
While some of these disorders are known to be caused by alcohol exposure – such as developmental and cognitive problems, and certain facial anomalies – for others, the association with FASD does not necessarily represent a cause-and-effect link. However, many disorders occurred more often among those with FASD than the general population. Based on 33 studies representing 1,728 individuals with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), the most severe form of FASD, the researchers were able to conduct a series of meta-analyses to establish the frequency with which 183 disease conditions occurred. More than 90 per cent of those with FAS had co-occurring problems with conduct. About eight in 10 had communications disorders, related to either understanding or expressing language.
Seven in 10 had developmental/cognitive disorders, and more than half had problems with attention and hyperactivity. Some of these other co-occurring problems may lead people to seek professional help, said Popova. The issue is that the underlying cause of the problem, alcohol exposure before birth, may be overlooked by the clinician and not addressed, he said. Earlier access to programmes or resources may prevent or reduce secondary outcomes that can occur among those with FASD, such as problems with relationships, schooling, employment, mental health and addictions, or with the law. Eliminating alcohol consumption during pregnancy or reducing it among alcohol-dependent women is extremely important. Newborns should be screened for prenatal alcohol exposure, especially among populations at high risk, she said.