Learning difficulties, physical disabilities and behavioural problems are all part of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders [FASD]. These lifelong conditions can drastically impact on the lives of the individual and those around them. BMA Scotland said that the reality is that these conditions are completely preventable by not drinking any alcohol during pregnancy.
There is proven risk that heavy drinking by pregnant women can cause these disorders in their children. However, evidence is continuing to emerge on the effects of low or moderate prenatal alcohol exposure and until there is clarification the only message is that it is not safe to drink any alcohol during pregnancy or when planning a pregnancy.
Dr Brian Keighley, Chairman of the BMA in Scotland said:
"We need to raise awareness of the emerging evidence on FASD among healthcare professionals so that children are diagnosed quickly and get the help they need. The lack of awareness and research in the UK on this subject, together with the complexity of the syndrome itself is leading to delays in diagnosis and referral.
"Healthcare professionals also need to get the message across to expectant mothers that consuming alcohol can cause irreversible harm to their unborn child. It's about giving people the right information so that they can act responsibly - and save children from completely preventable life-long disabilities."
The BMA published a report on FASD in June 2007. Recommendations in the report include:
• There is an urgent need for further UK and international research on FASD.
• Research should be undertaken to examine the relationship between different levels of prenatal exposure and the range of conditions associated with FASD.
• The UK health departments should implement guidance and training programmes for healthcare professionals on the prevention, diagnosis and management of FASD.
• Women who are pregnant, or who are considering a pregnancy, should be advised not to consume any alcohol.
• Research should be undertaken to identify the most effective ways to educate the public about FASD and to alter drinking behaviour. This requires systematic studies that compare various universal strategies and their impacts across the different social groups.
• All healthcare professionals should provide clear and coherent advice for expectant mothers and anyone planning a pregnancy on the risks of maternal alcohol consumption. Members of the antenatal care team should provide continued advice and support to expectant mothers throughout pregnancy.
• Any woman who is identified as being at high-risk of prenatal alcohol exposure should be offered referral to specialist alcohol services for appropriate treatment. Any referral should be followed up and assessed at regular intervals.