A cross-sectional study of around 6,639 first-grade children were examined to estimate the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASDs) living in four diverse communities in the Rocky Mountains, Midwestern, Southeastern and Pacific Southwestern regions of the United States. The FASD is an umbrella term for a group diseases, including fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).
The study was conducted by the Collaboration on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Prevalence (CoFASP) consortium between 2010 and 2016. The findings of this study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The children were assessed on the basis of the four risk factors responsible for causing FASDs—dysmorphic features, physical growth, neurobehavioral development and prenatal alcohol exposure. The outcomes were determined by interviewing mothers or other close relatives.
FASDs are a group of conditions that can occur in a child whose mother indulged in alcohol during pregnancy. Some of the problems include physical deformities like a small head, below average weight and height, etc. and difficulty with learning and behavioral problems. Among all, FAS, one of the most serious consequences of heavy drinking during pregnancy, inflicts a range of birth defects, such as craniofacial malformations, neurological and motor deficits, intrauterine growth retardation, learning disabilities, and behavioral and social deficits.
Economically, it is estimated that a child born with FAS will cost $2 million over her or his lifetime between treatment and disability. One of the key signs of a child with FAS is low birth weight and a smaller skull size compared to children at the same gestational age. While the child may appear healthy to family and friends, a smaller head size and a low birth weight indicate the problem of FAS.
While the previous data suggests the estimated frequency in the U.S. to be 10 per 1,000 children, the findings of the above-mentioned study estimated that the prevalence of FASD in the four regions ranged from 11.3 to 50.0 per 1,000 children, according to this new study. Using a weighted approach, the estimated prevalence ranged from 31.1 to 98.5 per 1,000 children. Moreover, among around 222 earlier diagnosed with FASD, only two were earlier diagnosed with FASD earlier.
In comparison, in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders at 14.6 per 1,000 children, or about 1.5 percent. This makes to approximately 10 times more children having disabilities related to fetal alcohol exposure —drinking during pregnancy.
Compared to the previous studies, these findings may represent more accurate U.S. prevalence estimations than the previous studies. However, one cannot generalize the findings to all communities. Being the first study to use school-based assessments, a common methodology and classification system, it gives a broader analysis of the problem.
The results not only reveal that a large number of children are suffering from unrecognized disabilities, but also indicates how widespread disabilities are from drinking during pregnancy. These findings emerge in the context of evidence suggesting that drinking among young women is on the rise. The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
FASDs last a lifetime. There is no cure for FASDs, but treatments can help. Diagnosing FASD can be tough owing to the absence of any specific medical test, but the health care provider can make a diagnosis by observing the child’s signs and symptoms, and asking whether the mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.
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