Affects of Prenatal alcohol exposure
According to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), alcohol consumption during pregnancy affects the nervous system of the fetus. Effects of alcohol have been demonstrated using various MRI imaging techniques.
Researchers believe that alcohol consumed by pregnant women leads to changes in brain structure and metabolism of the fetus. These changes, which are called fetal alcohol syndrome, are reflected in the behavior and physical development of the child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the syndrome has an incidence between 0.2 and 1.5/1000 newborns, but the estimated annual costs of fetal alcohol syndrome child care in the U.S. is approximately $ 4 billion. Progress that has been made recently regarding MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) have made possible the discovery of changes that occur in the brain.
A study conducted by researchers in Poland on a group of 230 infants revealed interesting findings. Of the 230 infants, 200 were exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, and 30 were healthy infants (control group). To assess the effects of alcohol on the nervous system, the researchers used three different MRI techniques. Imaging techniques have been used to find the size or shape of the corpus callosum, which is a nerve structure that connects the two cerebral hemispheres.There was a significant decrease in the size of corpus callosum in infants with fetal alcohol syndrome compared with healthy babies. The researchers came to the conclusion that prenatal exposure to alcohol is one of main causes of development or absence of corpus callosum.
Andrzej Urbanik, MD, chair of the Department of Radiology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, said that the decrease of corpus callosum has consequences on the psyche of children. Besides investigating the corpus callosum, researchers have analyzed six areas of the central nervous system with diffusion weighted imaging (DWI). This technique is based on the diffusion of water, and it seems that the accuracy of this technique is superior to MRI for detecting changes in nervous tissue structures. It was observed that babies with fetal alcohol syndrome shows increases in diffusion on DWI than healthy babies.
It should be noted that these differences are statistically significant between the two groups. Dr. Urbanik wanted to clarify that these changes suggest neurological and brain tissue damage.
Another technique used to investigate the effects of alcohol on infant was proton (hydrogen) magnetic resonance spectroscopy (HMRS). This imaging technique also showed metabolic changes in specific regions of the brain.