Dr Raja Mukherjee is a leading expert in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Below are answers to common questions about FASD which we hope you will find useful.
However, if you have any further questions Dr Mukherjee will be happy to help. You can get in touch with him using the information on the contact us page, or you can tweet him using @rajamukherjee10.
What does FASD stand for?
It stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, a term which describes a range of disorders that are caused by being exposed to alcohol in the womb. The most commonly occurring diagnoses are Full Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder.
How common are FASDs?
International studies suggest that one in every thousand children has Full Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The wider spectrum of disorders has been shown to be as high as 85 per 1000 or 8.5% in some groups. Studies estimate that 1-2% of the population are affected.
What difficulties might someone with FASD have?
It varies from person to person and can depend on how much alcohol they were exposed to in the womb.
Usually, someone with FASD may have some brain damage and / or developmental difficulties. For example, they are more likely to be diagnosed with autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and may also have problems with communication, social functioning, planning and understanding consequence. Many people have problems with how their brains process information and this leads them to struggle in their lives.
Around 10% of those with FASD also develop distinctive facial features. Analysing these features often helps us with diagnosis.
How much should I drink when pregnant?
Evidence suggests that drinking small amounts of alcohol while pregnant could have more effect on unborn babies than previously thought.
It is easier to think of alcohol in terms of risk rather than what is safe. If you drink a lot, the risk of causing harm is high. If you drink a little, the risk of causing harm is low. If you do not drink at all, you will not cause harm to your baby from alcohol.
The Department of Health recommends that women do not drink any alcohol while pregnant. If they do choose to drink, they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week, and should not get drunk.
What should I do if I suspect my child has FASD?
Your first point of contact should be your GP, midwife or health visitor. They may refer you to a geneticist if your child has the distinctive facial features associated with FASD. However, as this only happens to around 10% of those with a disorder, it may not be until the child starts to experience other difficulties (for example in their behaviour) that they may be referred onto a developmental paediatrician or psychiatrist.
We accept direct referrals in certain circumstances; usually children aged at least six. By this age, the development delays we would look out for are present but there is still time to help and intervene in managing and treating the disorder.
Why do you need to have genetic testing? Is FASD a genetic syndrome?
No, FASD is not a genetic syndrome but the behavioural presentation of FASD overlaps with other conditions. Good practice would suggest that to confidently diagnose FASD, you must first rule out other disorders that are known to have similar behavioural presentations. The most recent research suggests that a CGH array is the best test to look at this. We cannot do that in our clinic, although we can refer on to our regional service, at a cost. It is often easier, and in most cases is already commissioned, to have these tests done locally before referral to us.
What help is available once a diagnosis is made?
FASDs can't be cured but they can be managed. The earlier they are diagnosed, the more that can be done to help.
Once someone is diagnosed, we focus on helping that person manage their condition, with the aim of preventing secondary social and psychological issues, such as social exclusion and mental ill health, from developing.
These videos, filmed by Dr Raja Mukherjee, answer more questions about FASD. Click on the icon to watch the video.