Fetal Alcohol Cases May Be More Common Than Previously Thought

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(CBS News) — More U.S. children may be living with brain damage from prenatal drinking than experts have thought, a new study suggests.

The study of four U.S. communities found that at least 1 percent to 5 percent of first-graders had a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD.

The prevalence ranged depending on the community. And when the researchers used a less-strict estimate, the rate went as high as 10 percent in one location.

The figures challenge commonly accepted estimates on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which have been thought to affect about 1 percent of U.S. children.

“The bottom line is, these are not uncommon disorders,” said study leader Christina Chambers, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an umbrella term that includes fetal alcohol syndrome — which can be fatal, or cause serious problems with learning and behavior, stunted growth and facial abnormalities. It also includes less-severe learning or behavioral issues that can be traced to a woman’s prenatal drinking.

Kids in that latter group might have trouble with schoolwork or poor impulse control, for example. And it can be challenging to pinpoint FASD as the cause — versus a diagnosis like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Chambers said.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “There’s no blood test for it. A lot of clinical judgment goes into making the diagnosis.”

Read more and see video, here.