Monday, January 17, 2011

Foetal Alcohol Disorder - Part Two

Well, pleased as I am that the newspapers have picked up on the dangers of drinking while pregnant, there are some elements of the article in the Examiner, and the Editorial, which need some correction.

Firstly, the article states that one in nine children are born with FAD. Fortunately it is not that bad. It is actually 1 in 100 in the UK (and Canada) and it may be the same here, or perhaps a little worse, if our extra consumption of drink is taken into account.

There are about 900 births here each year, so that equates to about nine children each year who may be affected. Not one in nine as stated.

Secondly, Foetal Alcohol Disorder is NOT any form of ADHD. It is a seperate syndrome caused by the physical effects of alcohol on the foetus while in the womb.

The only connection is that it may be possible that children with FAD are being presumed to have ADHD if a proper diagnosis of the FAD condition has not been made. This is part of the work I am asking Health to undertake - is FAD not being diagnosed on occasions, or does it sometimes get lumped in with ADHD? Are the behaviour problems of these children being masked and labelled as ADHD?

Finally the Examiner editorial. This is in no way an attempt by the Government to interfere in the drinking habits of our population. I am trying to make sure that publicity is given to the real dangers of women drinking while pregnant. I have found that the vast majority of women abstain completely once they know they are expecting - but in my brief research in the last few days I have found that there is an ignorance about the effects of what drink can do to the foetus, and some women may drink without knowing they are pregnant, or without knowing the dangers.

This needs a co-ordination between the Drug and Alcohol Policy, Sexual Health Strategy and education in schools and by Health professionals.

At the Conference last week there were seasoned professionals, including head teachers with years of experience who did not realise that a foetus with no liver was in such danger from alcohol.

But again, thanks for the Examiner for kick starting what I hope may prevent some children from acquiring brain damage.

Foetal Alcohol Disorder is the single largest cause of preventable brain damage in new born children.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Foetal Alcohol Disorder

I was going to carry on my story of early days in Tynwald - last updated in October - and maybe I will come back to that. However, I want to talk about something which I have found quite disturbing.

I was away last week for three days in Blackpool at the North of England Education Conference, a conference for educationalists and providers of children services, which was being held for the 104th year - so quite well established. A cheapish trip with Manx2, but so valuable.

With me was Stuart Dobson, deputy director of Education, who knows his educational stuff and he also gained a lot from the Conference. There were several interesting and important themes, more of which later perhaps, but we went to a subsiduary meeting on children with Special Needs, in particular variants of ADHD.

So here is the story.

In the Isle of Man we have nearly double the number of children with ADHD that we should have statistically. We thought that we were either over-diagnosing it or there is something about Manx culture/genetics to account for this.

But maybe not...

Despite having worked in Health now for nine months, and previously being in the DHSS, Foetal Alcohol Disorder rated barely a mention, and I knew no details of it, except that it was not wise for pregnant women to drink.

Here is what I learned in Blackpool.

When you drink alcohol, it stays in your body for about six hours, and your liver and the enzymes deal with it. If you are pregnant, your baby, until very late in pregnancy, has NO liver, has NO enzymes. The alcohol stays in the foetus and cannot be dispersed. The result is physical damage to the brain - babies are born with smaller brains, with brains with chunks missing (usually the part which deals with numbers and calculating) and the normal walnutty wrinkles of a properly developed brain are largely missing.

Children born with this brain defect are very verbose, but in most other areas have a much lower mental age. There is a very distinct physical look to the children as well.

Here is the worrying bit. One in a hundred children are now being born with this defect.

In the Isle of Man this equates to about 9 children a year. However, we were informed that FAD is often not picked up, but just generally included in with children with ADHD.

The problem with young women who binge drink is that it often messes up their mentrual cycle, and they do not realise they are pregnant until much later than normally. In the meantime, every drink does further damage.
I have no doubt that we drink alcohol more than most of the rest of the UK, and I know enough about our population to say that binge drinking by young girls in the Island is not uncommon.

And here is the speculation - but to Stuart and I, a bit of a light-bulb moment. Is our higher rate of ADHD accounted for by a higher rate of Foetal Alcohol Disorder?

We don't know, but are going to find out. I have started research with our Health Department and we need some answers. But most of all we need a very public information campaign to highlight how serious this problem is. I discovered in Blackpool that some Directors of Education and Children's Services had never heard of this syndrome, and the teaching of children with the special needs caused by FAD needs a radical rethink.

This syndrome is ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE and the affected children have lives and attainment of a much lower standard than they should. If you know any young girls or women who binge drink, alert them now.

This my first step to raising awareness. I am a health amateur, and my cod reasoning may be shot down, but I will ask the experts to pick this up and give the public the facts.

We have huge campaigns about Drink Driving, which cause about one death every ten years - we need a campaign about Binge Drinking which is causing misery to at least nine, probably more children, every year.

If I can work out how to get photos and links, I will put them in the next post.