Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Introduction



In 1714, about two million gallons of gin were reportedly consumed in England. By 1750, the annual alcohol consumption rate had grown to 11 million gallons. A letter was written to Parliament voicing concerns about the gin problem and stating that, "too often the cause of weak, feeble, and distempered children, who must be, instead of an advantage and strength, [become] a charge to their country." Medically, it has been reported, there was very little appreciation of alcohol's influence on the fetus during the gin epidemic.

By the middle of the 19th century, Dr. E. Lanceraux, a French physician, seemed to have described some of the significant characteristics of FAS when he stated:

"As an infant, he dies of convulsions or other nervous disorders; if he lives, he becomes idiotic or imbecile, and in adult life bears the special characteristics: the head is small..., his physiognomy vacant [peculiar facial features], a nervous susceptibility more or less accentuated, a state of nervousness bordering on hysteria, convulsions, epilepsy...are the sorrowful inheritance,...a great number of individuals given to drink bequeath their children" (Lanceraux, 1865; quoted by Gustafson, 1885).

In 1973, the term fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) was coined by Kenneth L. Jones and David W. Smith, two pediatric experts studying abnormal tissue development, who rediscovered the tell-tale signs of alcohol exposure in infants at birth and notable in early childhood.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a disorder characterized by growth retardation, facial abnormalities, and central nervous system dysfunction (CNS). These characteristics affect the child for their entire life. FAS is not a genetic disease, it is caused by a woman's use of alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is 100% preventable. A woman only needs to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy to prevent her child from developing FAS.

Babies affected by alcohol can have some or all of the clinical signs of FAS. The term Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) had been used to describe children who have some, but not all, of the clinical signs of FAS. Experts in the field were unable to agree on the case definition for FAE so the Institute of Medicine (IOM) coined two terms that separately described disabilities and central nervous system abnormalities associated with prenatal alcohol exposure: alcohol-related neuro-developmental disabilities (ARND); and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).


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