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“Fetal alcohol syndromes” result from multiple maternal factors during pregnancy

Excessive maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy (especially among women with alcohol dependency) is known to markedly increase the risk of the fetus showing a group of developmental disorders defined as fetal alcohol spectrum syndrome (FASD), with the most serious form being fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The present paper attempts to identify maternal risk factors for FASD and FAS, but the authors report that there were not enough data to carry out a formal meta-analysis. They do, however, describe important maternal risk factors that have been reported in the literature to relate to these syndromes. The more frequent maternal conditions related to the risk of FASD or FAS include older age of mother, lower educational level, family relatives who abuse alcohol, little prenatal care, and a more severe pattern of alcohol consumption in general and particularly during pregnancy. They emphasize that “FAS is a multifactorial condition, and it is potentiated by complex relationships among several factors, social and biological.”

Forum reviewers considered this to be a well-done analysis presenting important and balanced information on these syndromes. Forum members agreed that many genetic and environmental factors, in addition to heavy alcohol consumption, may contribute to the development of these syndromes (e.g., certain genetic polymorphisms, inadequate pre-natal care, poverty, low education, familial alcoholism, use of illicit drugs, etc.).

Given the permanent nature of many of the defects found in FASD and FAS, and limited therapeutic options, it is important that the focus should be on the prevention of these syndromes. If they are to be prevented, it will be necessary to intervene among high-risk women, either prior to or early during pregnancy. Better knowledge of all the factors involved will help facilitate interventions that may help prevent these serious conditions. Reference: Esper LH, Furtado EF. Identifying maternal risk factors associated with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: a systematic review. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2014) 23:877–889; DOI 10.1007/s00787-014-0603-2.

For the full critique of this paper by members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, please click here.
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