‘This is the tip of the iceberg’ ‘More dangerous than smoking’

5 Jan 2013

Scottish Daily Mail
By Julie-anne Barnes
Revealed, shocking rise in birth defects caused by drinking
‘This is the tip of the iceberg’ ‘More dangerous than smoking’

TWO babies in Scotland every month are found to have birth defects caused by their mother’s excessive drinking during pregnancy.

Experts have warned of an explosion in cases as the Scottish Government tries to curb the binge drinking culture.

In 2010, the Scottish Government introduced a surveillance system to track cases of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

In the following two years, 40 youngsters under the age of six were i dentified as having ( FAS). But this has been described by experts as only ‘the tip of the iceberg’.

In some cases, diagnosis for the condition has to be carried out in Surrey as specialist services in Scotland lag behind the rest of the UK.

Maternity services in Scotland have also been asked to ‘embed’ alcohol brief interventions (ABI) as part of routine clinical care f or pregnant women.

Women seen as at risk will be offered help to cut back on their drinking habits. But campaigners last night said the safest advice for women was to avoid alcohol completely when pregnant.

Dr Evelyn Gillan of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: ‘The 40 children identified as having FAS through the surveillance programme are just the tip of the iceberg.

‘Thousands of children and adults in Scotland are affected by foetal alcohol harm, the majority of them undiagnosed.

‘The safest advice is to avoid drinking altogether when pregnant or trying to conceive. No alcohol means no risk of harm to the developing baby.’

The latest advice from Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer is that there is ‘no known safe time, type or amount of alcohol during pregnancy’. In addition, the Scottish Woman Held Maternity Record includes a mandatory question on alcohol use, which midwives ask as part of the routine first midwifery or ‘booking’ assessment.

Julia Brown, of the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder Trust, said: ‘Mums-to-be get mixed messages in pregnancy and social changes have led to an increase in female drinking, especially binge drinking and for younger women.

‘People are now well aware that smoking is bad for the unborn baby, but medically alcohol is more dangerous than cigarettes.

‘The most dangerous time is the first and last three months of pregnancy. The first three is when the foetus is forming physically; the last three is when the brain can suffer significant damage.’

The term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) covers a range of preventable birth defects. Problems for those affected include both physical difficulties and memory, learning and attention disorders.

The FASD Trust estimates that 1 per cent of the population suffer from the condition.

In a parliamentary question late last year, Labour MSP Richard Baker asked what action was being taken to ensure that patients with the condition can be diagnosed locally, rather than having to travel to Surrey.

Public Health Minister, Michael Mathieson, said that all paediatricians in Scotland had been offered training on diagnosing the condition.

But he added: ‘ Recognition of FASD is more difficult as patients age and the skills required to make a diagnosis in adulthood are less widespread.

‘The highly specialised service available at Surrey and Borders NHS Foundation Trust is available to support more complex cases where diagnosis is less clear.’

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