Alcohol is the most common identifiable teratogenic cause of mental retardation in North America. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a major public health problem, which is frequently under diagnosed by physicians.
Objective: To identify and quantify the maternal risk factors and neonatal characteristics of children with FAS.
Design: A retrospective case-control study using birth certificate data of North Dakota children diagnosed with FAS. Five controls were selected for each patient. Controls were selected from the computerized birth registry and matched by gender, year and month of birth.
Subjects and setting: A list of all the children diagnosed with FAS from the North Dakota FAS Registry was sent to the State Health Department. We were able to locate the birth certificates for 132 (56%) of the 228 cases on the registry.
Results: Of the 132 FAS cases, 106 (80.3%) were Native Americans and 24 (18.2%) were Caucasians. In this sample 51 (38.6%) of the cases were male and 81 (61.4%) were female. Statistically significant maternal characteristics at p < 0.01 were: older mother's age, lower education level, fewer months of prenatal care, fewer prenatal visits, lower gestational age at time of delivery and less prenatal weight gain. Significant neonatal differences at p < 0.01 were lower birth weight and Apgar scores and higher incidence of congenital malformations.
Conclusion: FAS is a completely preventable developmental disability. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can result in lifelong physical and mental impairments on the fetus. All pregnant women should be screened for alcohol use during prenatal visits. Women with positive screens or at high risk should be identified early by the primary care physician and referred for treatment and counseling.