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Fetal alcohol syndrome: all the harms of alcohol during pregnancy

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Fetal alcohol syndrome: all the harms of alcohol during pregnancy

Just a glass to make a toast on important occasions. Or a beer as an aperitif, when it happens. According to the ISTISAN 23/3 Reports, alcohol consumption during pregnancy is common in many countries and approximately 10% of women consume alcohol during pregnancy.

Nevertheless, Managing alcohol during pregnancy is serious business. And in fact, most doctors forbid their patients to drink, even just a glass, once in a while. The reason is called feto-alcoholic syndrome, the most serious manifestation of the damage caused by alcohol to the fetus during development in the mother’s womb. The September 9th (since 1999) is celebrated World Day of the disorder precisely to draw attention to the conscious consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

Feto-acholic syndrome in Italy

Precise data on the national incidence of the syndrome do not exist. However, as reported by the Ministry of Health, from an analysis of the first stools of 607 newborns conducted by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in seven Italian hospitals, it emerged that prenatal exposure to alcohol it is on average 7,9%. With a variability ranging from 0% in Verona to 29.4% in Rome. So, about 8 out of 100 newborns are exposed to alcohol intake during life in the womb.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

As the expert explains to us Flavia Indrioassociate professor of pediatrics and consultant in pediatric gastroenterology at the University of Bari, «is a combination of central nervous system dysfunctions which I am caused by alcohol consumed during pregnancy. It is difficult to diagnose it, because there is no specific sign, a symptom, that allows its identification. However, during the development of the fetus some effects can already be seen, such as a slowed growthespecially if alcohol consumption is significant and the woman has never stopped drinking it even during the first few weeks.”

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Doctors struggle to place the blame for delayed fetal development on alcohol intake, because «women who drink don’t tell their gynecologist. Therefore, it is rare for fetal alcohol syndrome to be detected during pregnancy. Rather, the cause is traced back to when the child is born and develops the peculiar characteristics of the syndrome.”

Characteristics of feto-alcoholic syndrome

A child with fetal alcohol syndrome can have various disabilities, which can be divided into primary and secondary.

Primary disabilities

Facial dysmorphisms. They are noticed between eight months and eight years: eye defects, small and spaced; short, flat nose; elongated and flat nasolabial fold; very thin upper lip; poorly shaped pinnae; maxillary and mandibular hypoplasia.
Growth delay. That is, lower than average values ​​for height, body weight and head circumference. Cardiac malformations may also be present.
Neurodevelopmental anomalies of the central nervous system. Therefore cognitive and behavioral alterations.

Secondary disabilities

Secondary disabilities, however, they arise later and are the consequence of the former. Especially if the syndrome has never been diagnosed and therefore the first complaints have not been treated. «Children born with feto-alcohol syndrome are much more predisposed to mental disorders and psychosis» underlines the expert. And in fact among these disabilities we find:

problems mental health; absence of autonomy; problems with the Work;
Scholastic experience bankruptcy; problems with the law;
isolation; inappropriate sexual behavior.

How does alcohol affect the fetus?

Alcohol is toxic and reaches the fetus at a concentration slightly lower than that in the maternal blood. Fetal cells, however, are not equipped with enzymes capable of metabolizing alcohol, and therefore suffer its harmful effects. «Alcohol goes to Act directly on neuronal network of the fetus, creating an alteration in the growth and malfunction of the neurons” continues Indrio. «Ethanol, in fact, is capable of cross the placenta and alters the entire placental circulation. So the fetus not only gets a toxic substance, but also little bloodwith all the resulting consequences in the development of the organs.”

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How much alcohol causes fetal alcohol syndrome?

Is there a minimum quantity of alcohol that exonerates the risk of the syndrome or is there none? «The quantity of alcohol during the sweet wait must be equal to zero» warns the expert. «Not so much because any quantity, from zero to one hundred, causes damage. But simply because we don’t know how every woman’s body reacts. And if in one a glass of wine does nothing, in another it can already cause small problems. Surely, the most serious damage is generated by chronic consumption, therefore from a woman who drinks more than one glass every day. But since any quantity of alcohol ingested by the mother reaches the fetus directlyil risk of damaging it it is anyway possible even with a glass every now and then.”

Although the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy are now known, many pregnant women in Europe continue to drink. In fact, the ISTISAN 23/3 Reports show that the European Union has the highest rates of fetal alcohol syndrome in the world, more than 2.5 times the global average.

«For years, as the Italian Society of Neonatology, together with the Ministry of Health and the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, we have been trying to increase awareness in pregnant women, of childbearing age and who are planning a pregnancy, through communication and prevention campaigns» , says Luigi Orfeo, President of SIN. «It is important, in fact, to guarantee the most correct, immediate and exhaustive information possible, which makes women aware, avoiding exposing them and their unborn children to the risks of avoidable damage, supporting a healthier lifestyle and eliminating the consumption of alcohol”.

Is there a cure?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is one irreversible disability. Patients, therefore, have at their disposal neuro-behavioral therapies, aim only at simplifying their lives. Family, social and work-related, when possible.

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