Alcohol and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

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Alcohol and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Alcohol plays a major role in society today. It is constantly being . ...... in our minds through advertisements, whether its commercials or billboards, holidays, or even just at the popular social scene. Alcohol is consumed for many purposes, such as celebrations, to increase romance, out of boredom, or a way to relax. Alcohol is a drug that is depended upon by the majority of our society. Nonetheless, alcohol has very damaging effects, not only does it cause self-inflicted diseases resembling alcoholism or cirrhosis of the liver, but it harms unborn fetuses as well. Many women drink alcohol when they do not even know that they are pregnant yet. Alcohol can cause disorders such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS, is a congenital disorder which is characterized by a variety of physical and behavioral traits that result from maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The term Fetal Alcohol Effects, FAE, indicates that alcohol is being considered as one of the possible causes of a patient's birth defects. In other words, FAE is a less severe form of FAS. Both FAS and FAE are the results of the use of teratogens, which are nongenetic influences that can potentially complicate fetal development.(Harris, p.85)

FAS is due to the mother's consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol in the woman's bloodstream circulates to the fetus via the placenta. There, the alcohol intrudes with the ability of the fetus to receive a sufficient amount of oxygen and nourishment for normal development in the brain and other body organs. The critical time for alcohol teratogenicity is around the time of conception.

Effects of FAS/FAE

Although alcohol is the only cause of FAS, there are unfortunately numerous effects. Infants with FAS may have a weak sucking response and an irregular sucking pattern early in life. Some doctors describe them as distracted and fatigued when sucking. Withdrawal symptoms such as prolonged twitching, jitteriness, sweating, and hyperactivity have also been reported in infants exhibited to alcohol before birth. (Timberlake and Birch, p.1) Prenatal alcohol exposure is one of the leading known causes of mental retardation in the United States. Mental retardation is usually mild to moderate, but occasionally it is severe. Central nervous system handicaps are also present in children with FAS. A small brain, learning disabilities, short attention span, hyperactivity in childhood, and poor body, hand, and finger coordination are examples of CNS handicaps.(NIAAA, p.1) Mental handicaps and hyperactivity are probably the most debilitating aspects of FAS.(Streissguth, p.1)

Children with FAS also suffer from facial abnormalities. These abnormalities include: small eye openings, drooping eyelids, short upturned nose, thin upper lip, and low set or poorly formed ears. (NIAAA, p.1) These facial patterns distinguish children with FAS/FAE from normal children, however they are not harshly malformed.

A more serious and life threatening symptom of FAS is organ deformities. This includes heart defects, heart murmurs, genital malformities, as well as urinary and kidney defects. Abnormal thyroid functioning and a decrease in the effectiveness of the immune system are also present in infants exposed to alcohol.

What about paternal alcohol consumption? Alcohol may affect fetal development through a direct effect on the father's sperm or gonads. Studies have shown that children with alcoholic fathers often experience cognitive abilities and have a greater chance of being hyperactive. These findings were found in adoption cases, where the biological father was an alcoholic and the child was raised by nonalcoholic parents.(Cicero,p.3)

FAE is a broad term covering a wide range of success levels, from mild learning disabilities to a less severe form of FAS. FAE is much harder to detect than...
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