Drinking alcohol while pregnant: Less than 1 drink per week can cause ‘significant’ changes in the brains of fetuses

Hannah Murphy | November 30, 2022 | Womens Imaging

Retrieved from https://healthimaging.com/topics/medical-imaging/womens-imaging/alcohol-while-pregnant-changes-brains-fetuses

Drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant—less than one drink per week—can impact fetal brain development. 

A study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America is raising questions about the safety of consuming even the slightest amount of alcohol while pregnant, as researchers uncovered structural brain abnormalities on the MRI exams of fetuses exposed to as little as one alcoholic beverage per week during gestation. In some cases, these abnormalities were found to be significant. 

“Unfortunately, many pregnant women are unaware of the influence of alcohol on the fetus during pregnancy,” said lead author Patric Kienast, MD, a PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-Guided Therapy, Division of Neuroradiology and Musculoskeletal Radiology at the Medical University of Vienna. “Therefore, it is our responsibility not only to do the research but also to actively educate the public about the effects of alcohol on the fetus.” 

The research team analyzed MRI exams of 24 fetuses (between 22 and 36 weeks gestation) with prenatal alcohol exposure, which was determined via the mothers’ responses to a questionnaire (the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System). 

When compared to age-matched controls, the alcohol-exposed group displayed significantly lower fetal total maturation scores (fTMS). Additionally, the researchers noted that the right superior temporal sulcus (STS)—an area of the brain associated with social cognition and language/speech processing and perception—was shallower in the alcohol-exposed group. 

Out of the 24 mothers involved in the research, 17 reported drinking very little—less than one alcoholic beverage per week. Despite this, the fetuses of those mothers still displayed “significant changes” in their brains on MRI scans. 

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network, its stakeholders, and/or funder

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