Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a condition affect Essay

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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a condition affecting children born to women who

drink heavily during pregnancy. There are three criteria used to describe the effects of
prenatal alcohol exposure and to make a diagnosis of FAS.

The first of these is a pattern of facial anomalies, these features include:
 Small eye openings
 Flat cheekbones
 Flattened groove between nose and upper lip
 Thin upper lip
These characteristics can gradually diminish as the child ages, but it is important to
note that diagnosis does not change because of this.

The second criteria is growth deficiencies:
 Low birth weight
 Decelerating weight over time, not due to malnutrition
 Disproportional low weight to height
 Height and weight below the tenth percentile
The third criteria used to diagnosis FAS are brain injury. This includes:
 Decreased head size
 Behavioral and/or cognitive problems such as: mental handicap; learning
difficulties; problems with memory; problems with social perception

 Neurological problems (impaired motor skills, poor coordination, hearing loss)
A person diagnosed with FAS may show one or more characteristics listed above, and there
is a great variability in the outcome. ( McCreight, 1997)

Partial FAS is the recommended term used to describe the cluster of problems facing those
who have some of the characteristic facial abnormalities associated with FAS, and one
other component of FAS such as: growth deficiency; behavioral and cognitive problems or
brain injury. This is only of course if it is known that there was significant prenatal
exposure to alcohol. (Abel, 1984)

Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) a term no longer used, refers to the cognitive and behavioral
problems that may affect those with Partial FAS. FAE has often been used indiscriminately
to label individuals with these problems, whether it not it was known they had been
exposed to alcohol in the uterus.

It is now recommended that the term FAE no longer be used, instead the more specific terms
Partial FAS (PFAS) be used when applicable. ( Blume, 1996)

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome NAS describes the presence of withdrawal symptoms in infants
exposed to one or more drugs during pregnancy. These drugs may include: alcohol,
narcotics, sedatives, anti-convulsants and others. Some of the symptoms of NAS include
wakefulness, irritability, diarrhea, vomiting, respiratory distress and lack of sucking.
(Abel, 1966)

Alcohol-related birth defects that may be present to those born with FAS can easily be
identified because of the cluster of characteristic features involving facial appearance,
growth and brain damage. Children born to mothers that drink heavily in pregnancy may also
have serious congenital birth defects such as :

 Heart defects;
 Kidney and other internal organ problems;
 Skeleton abnormalities;
 Cleft palate and other facial abnormalities;
 Vision and hearing problems.
These are known as alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). The range of these birth defects
is likely due to such factors as:

1. variations in the timing of alcohol use;
2. variations in the amount of alcohol used;
3. use of one or more substance that can cause birth defects;
4. and many other individual and genetic factors. ( Villarreal, 1992.)
It is not known how much alcohol a woman can safely drink. However, it is known that the
more alcohol a pregnant woman consumes, the greater the range and severity of problems to
the developing fetus. Drinking alcohol regularly, or daily during pregnancy is considered
to be of high risk. Drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication on an occasion is also a

There is no “safe” time period during pregnancy to consume alcohol. There are
critical periods during pregnancy for the development and growth of all body systems.
Different FAS features may be linked with the period in which alcohol is heavily consumed.
This underlines the benefits of stopping or reducing alcohol use at any one point possible
during pregnancy. (Davis, 1984)

Other factors such as malnutrition, smoking, and the use of other drugs increase the risk
of FAS. The mothers overall health, age and exposure to environmental toxins such as lead,
mercury, and stressful life events associated with poverty and including physical abuse
may also increase the risk of FAS. It is not known how much of a contributor these other
factors make, but addressing these related health issues may have a significant bearing on
the prevention of FAS. (Kleinfeld, 1993)

The risk of FAS is higher for those who already have a child affected with FAS. It is also
higher when the mother has a long history of alcohol misuse and has not accessed routine
health and prenatal care. A range of resiliency factory also influences the risk of having
a child affected by FAS.

There is some indication that men’s use of alcohol and other drugs can affect the
viability of sperm. It is also clear that men’s drinking can have an impact on that
of their partners. Thus, fathers play an important role in encouraging and supporting
their partners to reduce their alcohol and other drug use, both before and during
pregnancy. (Blume, 1992)

Estimates of incidence for full FAS range from one in 500 births to one in 3,000 births,
with the rate for other alcohol related effects estimated at five to ten times higher.
Prevalence of FAS and other alcohol related effects in high-risk populations such as First
Nation communities may be as high as one in five. ( Streissguth, 1998)

FAS is the leading known cause of mental handicap in children, even greater than
Down‘s Syndrome or spina bifida. FAS is also the leading cause of preventable birth
defects in developed countries.

The human cost for each child born with FAS are high.
 To both birth parents and foster parents, an FAS child may prove to be very
challenging and special programs may not be available.

 Many of those affected by FAS may require foster home and/or group home placement
over the course of their life lives.

 Many youth and adults affected by FAS come in contact with the corrections system
 Those affected by FAS have learning disabilities and behavioral problems that
often require extensive and specialized help

Diagnosis of FAS is difficult for many reasons. There are no standard tests to detect FAS
and the range of characteristics is diverse. Many of the characteristics are not only
distinctive of FAS, but other disorders as well. Symptoms vary widely in severity among
FAS-affected individual and may change with age. In infancy, central nervous system
impairments and facial abnormalities due to FAS may be difficult to identify. (McCreight,

Diagnosis involves the disciplinary work-up, including assessment of language, motor
coordination, growth and development patterns, craniofacial features, as well as a
psychological assessment and identification of the mother’s alcohol and drug use.
Assessment of vision, hearing and dental problems can assist in planning an intervention
program. Assessment of the child’s strength, special interest, and abilities should
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