Every year, almost 4000 babies in Germany are born with alcohol-related defects. The mothers of these children have often drunk alcohol regularly during the pregnancy. The consequences are often devastating and commonly persist into adulthood.
Despite intensive research the precise pathogenetic mechanism of intrauterine alcohol damage remains to be clearly established. Affected neonates are too small and underweight, with craniofacial deformities. A narrowed palpebral fissure and a thin upper lip are typical manifestations.
The children’s physical and mental development is delayed. Many of them are poor learners or display conspicuous behavior. Psychiatric and neurological disorders such as depression and epileptic seizures occur with increased frequency. In adulthood, patients are often not able to live independently and require long-term care. Thus the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a diagnosis for life.
The various forms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are presented by the pediatricians Hans-Ludwig Spohr and Hans-Christoph Steinhausen in the latest issue of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International (Dtsch Arztebl Int 2008; 105: 693-8).
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