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1 In 20 US Kids May Have Fetal Alcohol Disorders

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More children in the United States live with brain damage from prenatal drinking than earlier thought, findings of a new study have revealed.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD, are a group of conditions marked by abnormal facial features, abnormal growth, behavioral problems and intellectual disabilities. They are the effect of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

"Alcohol in the mother's blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. When a woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"To prevent FASDs, a woman should not drink alcohol while she is pregnant, or when she might get pregnant."

Experts previously estimated that only 1 percent of children in the United States are affected by FASD, but findings of the new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, Feb. 6, suggest that up to one in 20 children could be affected.

Christina Chambers, from the University of California San Diego, and colleagues evaluated 6,600 first-grade students at four sites in the Southeast, Midwest, Pacific Southwest, and Rocky Mountain. The children underwent detailed evaluations and their mothers were interviewed about their lifestyle during pregnancy, which include smoking, drug use, drinking habits, and prenatal care.

By conservative estimates, Chambers and colleagues found that FASD affected between 1 percent to 5 percent of the children. A less conservative estimate brings the range from about 3 percent to 10 percent of the children.

"The conservative estimates assume that every child who didn't participate in the study didn't have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder," Chambers explained. "The flip side of the coin says that instead of the denominator being all eligible children, it is only those children for whom we had sufficient information to classify them -- a much smaller number."

Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

Prenatal drinking is one of the most common causes of intellectual disability. It remains unclear though just how little a pregnant woman could drink without causing harm to her unborn child.

Many health organization and agencies advice against drinking alcohol during pregnancy, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, but about half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

Women in the early stages of their pregnancies may still be drinking when they are not aware they are pregnant. Chambers earlier advised women to observe precautions so they would not inadvertently harm their unborn child.

"Women of childbearing age who drink alcohol should consider their pattern of drinking. For example, avoid binge drinking and avoid pregnancy as long as they are drinking. If pregnancy is planned, then alcohol can be discontinued," Chambers said.

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