The silent issue of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder

pregnant wine
pregnant wine 

Children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder are being all too commonly misdiagnosed, leading to health complications and wasted resources, due to a lack of specialists, .

Leading paediatrician Zoe McLaren spoke about the lack of specialists at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians congress held in Auckland this week.

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) was recognised as the most commonly preventable disability in the Western world and many children with the condition were often overlooked, she said.

"Often children with FASD have a normal IQ but are functionally disabled despite this," she said.

Individuals with FASD face breakdowns in family, school disruptions, alcohol and drug misuse and are involved with mental health services."

McLaren said children with FASD were often given the wrong labels and misdiagnosed with behaviour disorders.

"Everyone suffers and money is being wasted. Binge drinking cultures need to be faced head on and we need to stop laying responsibility for FASD at the feet of the women," she said. 

She said women's partners, health providers, alcohol marketing and society all carried responsibility for the issue: "Health professionals and other service providers need to be supported to appropriately ask all women about alcohol use and advise women not drinking any alcohol is safest."

Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand are disproportionately represented by alcohol-related harms. 

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She said there were guidelines to use objectively to diagnose FASD. 

''It's not just a cluster of symptoms. Part of our assessments is to look at all the other possible diagnoses. We look really carefully at features."

Sydney-based paediatrician Elizabeth Elliott said it had been 40 years since FASD was first identified but people still hadn't got the message. She said a survey in Western Australia showed health experts tended not to ask about alcohol use during pregnancy.

Australian research showed a third of women were unaware of the adverse effects of alcohol during pregnancy, and one in five women were very open to alcohol use during pregnancy.

"Some of these women had drunk in a previous pregnancy and never had any problems, or many of their partners drink,'' Elliott said.

- The Dominion Post

Find more about FASD and the Pregnant Pause challenge at pregnantpause.com.au