February 15, 2018

Fetal Alcohol Disorder May Be Far More Common Than Previously Thought

Alcohol can have effects in any stage of pregnancy

Fetal Alcohol Disorder May Be Far More Common Than Previously Thought

Most of us know that when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy, she puts her baby at high risk of developing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Now, a new study shows that the rate at which children are impacted by these life-long disabilities may be higher than previously estimated.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can include learning, behavioral and physical problems, as well as alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder and alcohol-related birth defects.

In the study, researchers assessed 6,639 first-graders in four U.S. communities and identified 222 children as having a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Only two of these children had been previously diagnosed with the condition before the study occurred.

Based on their findings, the researchers estimated conservatively that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect 1.1 percent to 5 percent of U.S. children — up to five times the previous estimates.

The results show that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a problem that all pregnant women need to know about, says Ob/Gyn Salena Zanotti, MD. She did not take part in the study.

“In past large studies, the estimate was 10 out of a thousand children may have something in this spectrum, and this study suggests it’s probably closer to 5%, which is significantly more than what we thought,” she says.

Advertisement

Alcohol’s effects

Alcohol can impact a pregnancy at any stage, Dr. Zanotti says. This is important to know for women without an addiction issue who erroneously think it is all right to drink small or infrequent amounts of alcohol during a pregnancy.

Plainly put, pregnant women should not consume any alcohol, Dr. Zanotti says.

A 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics report said “no amount of alcohol intake should be considered safe” during any trimester. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that sexually active women who are not using birth control “not drink alcohol at all.”

In early pregnancy, alcohol can cause heart defects and birth defects, and increases the risk of stillbirth or miscarriage. In the later stages of pregnancy, alcohol can affect the development of the brain, which can significantly impact a child’s memory, learning abilities and motor abilities.

Many times, these cognitive problems do not appear until a child is school-age, Dr. Zanotti says.

Advertisement

Choose not to drink

Pregnant women need to know that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 100 percent preventable, Dr. Zanotti says. Help is available to those who are struggling with alcohol addiction.

“This is something you’re choosing to ingest and this is something we can stop,” she said. “There are people who have problems with addiction and they need help and guidance to find the resources that are available to them.”

Complete results of the study can be found in the journal JAMA.

Related Articles

Closeup of people holding up shot glasses
February 15, 2024
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body? 9 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health

Alcohol affects your whole body, from your liver and immune system to your brain and mental health

Symbolic illustration of a person chained to a bottle to represent addiction
June 9, 2022
Are You Addicted to Alcohol?

Denial is common for many living with addiction, but behavioral red flags don’t lie

Pregnant woman out with friends at bar drinking alcohol
July 25, 2019
1 in 9 U.S. Women Report Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

But no level of alcohol is safe for moms-to-be

doctor speaking with middle-age woman
February 21, 2024
Does Your Health Determine Menopause Age?

Reaching menopause very early raises your risk of certain health conditions

Female speaking with doctor, with uterus and ovary with cysts
February 21, 2024
Can PCOS Cause Weight Gain?

The common hormonal condition is linked to insulin resistance, which can cause weight gain

Older woman awake in bed in the middle of the night looking a smartphone
February 20, 2024
Does Menopause Cause Insomnia and Sleeplessness?

Hormone changes can definitely leave you tossing and turning at night, but help is available

Teal awareness ribbon in doctor's hand, symbolic bow color for supporting patient with PCOS
February 7, 2024
Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Genetic?

While this hormonal condition can be hereditary, there are other risk factors to also consider

healthcare provider speaking with older female in office
February 6, 2024
How Estrogen Supports Heart Health

Your natural estrogen levels support a healthy heart by improving your cholesterol, increasing blood flow and reducing free radicals

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad