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New tool to aid diagnosis and treatment of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

7 September 2016
Raising awareness about the potential harms from alcohol use in pregnancy

Australia’s first national tool for diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has been released in a bid to promote early diagnosis and treatment of FASD.

“Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a form of brain injury caused by alcohol use during pregnancy,” says Professor Elizabeth Elliott of the University of Sydney. “While it is preventable, many women continue to drink during pregnancy and FASD is seen throughout Australia.”

“Australian health professionals have been slow to diagnose FASD. Often, they don’t ask about alcohol use in pregnancy and don’t know how to diagnose FASD, or where to refer patients.

“Children with FASD have a range of problems with learning, development and behaviour and do best with early diagnosis and treatment.
Professor Elizabeth Elliott AM

“Children with FASD have a range of problems with learning, development and behaviour and do best with early diagnosis and treatment.

“Up to 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned so exposure to alcohol is often inadvertent,” said Professor Elliott.

State and territory-based studies report FASD incidence at between 0.01 and 0.68 per 1000 live births.

Funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health, The Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD was produced by researchers Professor Elizabeth Elliott AM from the University of Sydney and Professor Carol Bower from Telethon Kids Institute Perth with input from colleagues nationally. 

Professor Elliott said that the new Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD will greatly assist health professionals in asking about alcohol use, assessing children at risk, making an accurate diagnosis, providing optimal care and knowing where to refer for specialist care.  

The tool will also raise awareness about the potential harms from alcohol use during pregnancy and may therefore assist in prevention.

Professor Bower said the tool’s development was “a collaboration between researchers, consumers, and clinicians across the country and has been harmonised with Canada’s new national FASD guidelines.”

About FASD

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is characterised by severe neurodevelopmental impairment resulting from exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. The effects of prenatal alcohol exposure are life-long and may not be seen at birth. Problems include brain damage leading to delayed development, social, behavioural and learning problems. These can lead to secondary outcomes such as poor school performance, unemployment, substance abuse, mental health problems and early engagement with the justice system.

Adverse secondary outcomes can be limited by early diagnosis and treatment. FASD is preventable and increasing community awareness about alcohol harm is essential. 

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