A proposal calling for alcohol testing during pregnancy has been passed at the Irish Medical Organisation’s (IMO) annual conference. The measure was proposed by a public health specialist and is designed to reduce the incidences of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) in Ireland.
The simple urine test during check-ups would allow doctors to ‘stage an intervention’ if so needed. Former IMO president, Dr Ann Hogan, said the testing could be done very easily as part of the current system of urine sample testing during regular maternity check-ups.
“It is possible to detect alcohol for up to 5 days”, said Dr Hogan. “Women have been getting mixed messages about drinking during pregnancy. Doing this test will give doctors an opportunity to stage an intervention. It will tell the true incidence of what is going on.”
FASDs covers a range of conditions caused by a mother’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy and include foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), partial foetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS) as well as alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders. When a mother drinks alcohol, it passes to her baby through the placenta. This alcohol can disrupt the baby’s development in the womb: damage cells in their brain, spinal cord and other parts of their body. It can also result in distinctive facial features, such as small eyes, a thin upper lip, and a smooth area between the nose and upper lip.
The symptoms of FASD are wide ranging and can include abusive behaviour, low IQ and issues with alcohol and drugs. A late diagnosis can mean that individuals are less likely to receive the extra support they need, which can result in further problems down the line, such as trouble at school, substance abuse and mental illness. Many with the disorder can often end up homeless, said Dr Hogan.
“You have to tell people directly that they are putting their baby at risk. Having evidence helps”, she said.
The exact levels at which damage can be caused by drinking during pregnancy are unknown as people have different metabolism rates, she said. The advice remains that it is important not to drink: there are no safe levels during pregnancy.
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