'3000 babies affected' by mothers' drinking

Last updated 16:51 19/05/2014

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Children with foetal alcohol syndrome are being all too commonly misdiagnosed, leading to health complications and wasted resources.

Leading paediatrician Zoe McLaren spoke about the lack of specialists at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) congress held in Auckland today.

Foetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) was recognised as the most commonly preventable disability in the Western world and many children with the condition were often overlooked, she said. "Often children with FASD have a normal IQ but are functionally disabled despite this."

McLaren said because of New Zealand's high drinking rates, high rates of unplanned pregnancy and rates of drinking during pregnancy, FASD was a major concern but little in the way of resources had been invested in the training of specialists and awareness-raising.

It was estimated there were up to 3000 New Zealand children with the syndrome born each year.

"Individuals with FASD face breakdowns in family, school disruptions, alcohol and drug misuse and are involved with mental health services."

McLaren said children with FASD were often given the wrong labels and misdiagnosed with ADHD or other behaviour disorders.

"Everyone suffers and money is being wasted. Binge drinking cultures need to be faced head on and we need to stop laying responsibility for FASD at the feet of the women."

She said women's partners, health providers, alcohol marketing and society all carried responsibility for the issue. "Health professionals and other service providers need to be supported to appropriately ask all women about alcohol use and advise women not drinking any alcohol is safest."

Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand are disproportionately represented by alcohol-related harms.
She said there were guidelines to use objectively to diagnose FASD. 

''It's not just a cluster of symptoms. Part of our assessments is to look at all the other possible diagnoses. We look really carefully at features."

Sydney-based paediatrician Elizabeth Elliott said it had been 40 years since FASD was first identified but people still hadn't got the message. She said a survey in Western Australia showed health experts tended not to ask about alcohol use during pregnancy.

Australian research showed a third of women were unaware of the adverse effects of alcohol during pregnancy, and one in five women were very tolerant to alcohol use during pregnancy.

"Some of these women had drunk in a previous pregnancy and never had any problems, or many of their partners drink,'' Elliott said.

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- The Dominion Post

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