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FAS Essay, Research Paper

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

In this paper I will tell facts about the harm and danger mothers put their children thru when deciding to drink alcohol, while they are pregnant. I will tell some of the symptoms and characteristics of this bad syndrome. What happens when the child grows up and starts school and then what it is like as an adult. This horrible syndrome is called ?Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.?

Many pregnant women are not aware of the complications that are involved with pregnancy. The greater majority of young women see pregnancy as a way of bringing life into the world but do not use precaution in their dietary habits to prevent the destruction or inhibition of such a life. Most pregnent women continue on their drinking and drug abuse binge right thought out their pregnancy. They do not think ahead to the damage, and pose problems not only to herself, but also to the fetus that she is carrying. The problem? FAS, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. According to many physicians it is the leading cause of birth defects and development disabilities in the United States today. Douglas A. Milligan states that, ?FAS is the single greatest cause of mental retardation in the US today.? (Searchrist, pg.314)

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was first named, treated, and found in the late 1960?s. This condition results from the toxic effect of alcohol and its chemical factors on the development of the fetus and its brain. The alcohol enters the bloodstream though the placenta and then the damage start from there. FAS consists of a characteristic pattern of abnormalities resulting from the exposure that the fetus has had with alcohol during early development. There have been many reports linking alcohol use and fetal deficiencies in growth that emerged from France in the late 1950?s. Not until the 1960?s was the correlation made between the number of defects and the increasing amount of babies born with the syndrome. The term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was coined to describe the pattern of the abnormalities found in some children born to alcoholic women. It clearly was very noticeable and distinctive in the recognition of itself and was distinct from all others patterns of malformation in the fetus; there was a significant association found between the alcohol consumption rates during pregnancy and a lower general cognitive index of these children. (Searchrist p.315)

Being further studied in the 1970?s under the heading as a birth defect that occurs, FAS was one of the most common causes of birth defects. Researchers said that it occurred in almost 1 of every 500 to 1 of every 1000 births. At least 5000 babies are born with the syndrome each year. There is a major thing that causes difficulty in the diagnosis of this disorder though, its main diagnosis hinges on the obvious facial abnormalities, short stature, and low IQ. Children who do not meet all of these factors are diagnosed with FAE, Fetal Alcohol Effect, a milder form of FAS. There are general abnormalities which affect both forms of the disease. These abnormalities include a deficiency in growth, a pattern of malformation affecting the face, heart, and urinary tract. There are abnormalities within the brain that lead to various intellectual and behavioral problems in early childhood, as well as problems within the central nervous system. The most prominent among the factors are the frequency and the quantity of material alcohol consumption during the pregnancy. (Broken Cord p.37)

The timing of the gestation of alcohol is what determines the level of abnormalities that occur. The stage of development at which alcohol consumption takes place and that in correlation to the gestation period, nutritional status, and genetic background all play parts in the development of the baby and its defects. The alcohol that is being consumed does have an effect on the cellular and molecular development of the fetus and that is what generally underlines the development of FAS. There are specifics in diagnosing that doctors look for in treating a patient for FAS. First of all, the eyes are the most common and consistent sign of FAS, the eyelids especially. The children often appear to have widely spaced eyes, but measurements reveal that they are spaced apart normally. This disparity in sight is cause by short ?fissures (eye openings),? The distance between the inner and outer corners of each eye is shortened making the eyes appear smaller and farther apart then normal. Following the downward pattern, the next common facial defect in children of FAS/FAE is slow growth on the center of the face. This produces an underdeveloped midface and the zone between the eye and the mouth may seem to be flattened or depressed and in correspondence the bridge of the nose is often very low. As a result of slow nose growth, the nose tends to point forward and downward. Subtle but still a characteristic feature is the philtrum, the area between the nose and the mouth. Characterized by a vertical midline groove, boarded by two vertical ridges of the skin, where grooves meet the red margin of the upper lip it forms a ?cupid?s bow?. In the development of the FAS child there is a long, smoothly arched upper lip margin. Where a s the facial abnormalities are very obvious when looked for the abnormalities of the limbs and joints are less consistent. These include deformities of the small joints of the hands as well as an incomplete rotation at the elbow. (Encyclopedia of Drug Abuse p. 167)

Looking inwardly to the problems that may occur children with FAS are also for the most part stricken with an increased risk for many common birth defects. Of these chronics defects include congenial heart disease, abnormalities of the urinary tract and genitals, and spina bifida. These aforementioned abnormalities are not specifics to FAS but couple with FAS characteristics they help to provide a more clear and concise diagnosis. There were many reports of behavioral and intellectual trouble in all the children that have thus been diagnosed. (Encyclopedia Of Drug Abuse p.167)

Beginning with infancy, the children have problems at feeding and are highly irritable. They also exhibit unpredictable sleeping and eating patterns which make it hard for a baby to be cared for and for maternal bonding to happen. During development, both physical and mental, FAS children have very fine and poor motor coordination skills and it becomes very affectionate but at the same time very hyperactive, which makes a problem for the teachers who have them in class to deal with. This is why there are, during the first few years of school, given the diagnosis of having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); this diagnosis is given Because of their high activity level, short attention span, and poor short-term memory. Many of these children require special education help regardless of the fact that their IQ falls between the normal ranges. Their hyperactivity calls for them to receive special attention that normal teachers cannot and most of the time will not give to them. (Searchrist p.317)

As FAS children grow into FAS adults, their level of development and how they develop begins to show in everything that they do. Since their social and mental health has been compromised as adults they exhibit inadequate communication skills, impulsivity, poor judgment, trouble with abstract thinking, and limited problem solving skills. With all these problems they often have difficulty in holding down a job because their unreliability, lack of social skills, and functional illiteracy. The institutional and medical cost for one child with FAS reaches 1.4 million dollars over a lifetime. There are many different factors involved in fetal development in relation to FAS.

The two things involved that stand out the most are teratogens and acetaldehydes. These two stand out as the things that are not in detailed way nutritionally involved. No laboratory tests can rule out the diagnosis of FAS but growing research is directed toward finding the underlying mechanisms that contribute to fetal alcohol damage. Scientists also are searching for genetic and biochemical characteristics associated with the susceptibility to FAS. Human gestation is divided into two major periods: the embryonic period (up to 8 weeks) and the fetal period (from 8 weeks to delivery). It?s during the embryonic period that various drugs are introduced directly into the maternal bloodstream or administered through the maternal diet. Chemical/Physical agents that produce these fetal malfunctions are called teratogens. Most teratogens show selectivity towards certain organs, based on the timing of the embryo to the teratogen, the dosage taken, and the sensitivity of the dividing cells. Organs and limbs of the developing embryo are formed from collections of specialized cells. Expose of an embryo to a teraogen during this period may have devasting effect on the formation of that organ. The primary metabolic product of alcohol is acetaldehyde, which could also produce some damaging effects. The reasons that this is looked at, but not as directed as is alcohol, is because of the following reasons; Alcohol is distributed rapidly and nearly equally in maternal and fetal tissues, Alcohol applied directly into embryos in vitro conditions in which no acetaldehyde is formed causes growth retardation. Because of this, these two mentioned factors are in effect cause indirectly, if not adversely directly, to the formation of the defects that are causes in the children of FSA.

The nutritional aspect of FAS is not as simple. Normal growth and development during this priming period requires the transfer of a continuous supply of amino acids and glucose form mother to fetus. Several studies have shown that with the human placental tissue alcohol directly obstructs the transport of both these substances. These are two essential substances that, through research with rat embryos, have proven that the depravity of such causes malformations of fetal tissue?s energy sources. The materials needed for cell proliferation, growth, and differentiation is also affected in this. The supplemental glucose thus becomes only minimally effective because of the lack of diminution of fetal growth retardation. Included within the nutritional deficiencies that occur are the loss of vitamins B6 and A. There is noted decrease in the transfer of B form an alcoholic mother to her fetus through the placenta. This vitamin is especially important in the development of the fetus because it functions as protein metabolism. There exists also a possible defect in the metabolism of folic acid. The lack of which during the gestation period produces malformations in the fetus. The last vitamin deficiency is the receiving of vitamin A from the alcoholic mother to the fetus. The release and production of hormonal factors are needed to be supplied to the fetus through the mother for normal development and this is yet another fact that is tampered within the mother who drinks during her pregnancy. The production and release of hormones from both the maternal and fetal glands and form the placenta influence the formation and development of tissues as diverse as the brain and the palate. (Facts about drinking p.21)

In experimental animals exposed in the uterus to alcohol, there is a decrease in blood and brain concentration of the corticosteroid hormones. The defiency in said hormone leads to the failure in the response of a newborn to stress. Thyroid hormonal deficiencies are also having harmful effect on the development of some tissues, especially the brain. In the cerebellum, a part of the brain controlling posture and balance, there is a change in the maturation and migration of nerves cells to their respective locates that is caused by the deficiencies linked to the thyroid hormone. (Facts about drinking)

There will always exits a continual risk because of the lack of education in mothers to be. The one thing most importantly stressed is that mother who knows or even thinks that she is pregnant should not drink anything that is made of alcohol. The harm of what they will do to there children is what these moms need to know.


Birth defects Blamed Too Often on Alcohol, Lisa Burns, Science News,

Nov 1999. p. 314

The Broken Cord, Michael Dorris,

Copyright 1989, New York, NY

The Facts about Drinking, Gail Glenason Milgram, Consumer Reports

p.18 Copyright 1990, Mount Vernon, NY

The Encyclopedia of Drug Abuse, Robert O?Brien, Encyclopedia,

p.166 Copyright 1992, New York, NY

Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, William Morrow, Medical Reference,

p.328 Copyright 1996, New York, NY

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