Teratogens are substances which upon exposure to pregnant women lead to harmful effects on the fetus before or after birth. After birth, exposure to the teratogens may be necessitated through breastfeeding. These teratogens include alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription/non-prescription medication, vaccines, environmental and occupational exposures and many more. Whenever, a pregnant woman is exposed to such teratogens, the teratogen is absorbed in the mother’s bloodstream and then passed to the developing fetus through the placenta. In this study we will consider the teratogen alcohol. The teratogen alcohol is the widely recognized teratogen used by pregnant women. Additionally, this teratogen is ranked amongst the leading teratogens that cause physical malformations, neurological and mental retardation in fetus.
In regards to the effects of alcohol on a fetus, the effects may be minor or severe.. Once a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, the alcohol level in her blood will actually be the alcohol level in the fetus blood after few minutes. Alcohol due to its toxic nature will affect the growing cell of the fetus thus hinder their development and placement. However, the extent of damage by this teratogen on the fetus is dependent on amount, pattern, timing of exposure and genetic makeup. First is the consumption rate of alcohol by the pregnant woman. Pregnant women with a smaller consumption rate probably 2 to 4 non frequent drinks result to fetal alcohol effect on the fetus. This effect is characterized by development delays, lowered hyperactivity of the child and low miscarriage risks. On the other hand, pregnant women who are heavy consumers of alcohol probably chronic (5-6 bottles of alcohol daily) and binge drinkers lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) (Roberton, and South, p. 285). Here, the risks of miscarriage are higher and in the cases where the miscarriage does not happen the fetus succumbs to long term effects before and after birth. These effects are permanent and are known as primary disability. These include head and facial abnormalities such as small head, eyes and nose, mental retardation due brain impairment and heart defects.
Apart from the above named impacts, exposure to alcohol has other risks. These are known as secondary effects. The affected individuals upon growth experience secondary effects associated with their social life. These secondary effects include homelessness, joblessness, social isolation, mental problems, behavioral problems, learning difficulties as well as difficulties in managing anger and personal relationship with others. However, secondary effects are not usually present in all those who have FAS. Generally, they experience hardships integrating in the community. More often, they require assistance from various systems like health, housing education, and social services amongst others to be integrated in the society. For this reason, the effect of this damage is not only suffered by the individual alone but also with those around him/her; family and the society.
On the front of technological advancement, this teratogen problem has reduced recently. Studies have shown that several factors that determine the onset and continued use of alcohol by an individual. These are the genetic makeup, surrounding environment and metabolism. These factors also relate to the pattern of alcohol exposure and risks of alcohol dependence. The technological advances have led to identification of genes associated alcohol dependence as well as their interaction with the environment and metabolic factors. Development of disorders and complexities in behavior is controlled by interaction of genetic factors with the environmental factors. This has led to introduction of lifespan perspective to understand the effect of this teratogen.
As far as the steps to reduce the effect of this teratogen are concerned, more attention is required. However, this can most be applied to overcome secondary effects. First and foremost, early diagnosis and assessment of the child is necessary regardless of their age. Next, monitoring of the child’s health and physical development is highly recommended. This will help establish the extent of damage and the measures to be applied. As earlier mentioned, it is necessary to provide a home environment that is safe and stable. Relative to the behavioral problems, clear and concrete measures should be used to correct their behavior (Bernstein and Shelov, p. 272). This is attributed to the fact that the affected individuals experience difficulties in understanding and predicting the impacts of their actions. In addition, they can be easily influenced thus prone to negative behaviors. Appropriate education and training should be emphasized to overcoming learning and joblessness. The affected children should be taken to institution designed to cater for individuals with FAS. Learning and job placements should be based on individual’s ability, skills and interests as well. Furthermore, respite should be provided to the parents or caretakers handling the affected individuals.
The embryo and fetus development stages of life are the most vulnerable to teratogen effects particularly alcohol. Alcohol exposure to the fetus cause primary disabilities such as physical malformations and neurological dysfunction and secondary effects later in life. They range from minor to severe effects to the fetus based on the amount, pattern and timing of exposure and the genetic makeup as well. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most adverse effect of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Preventive measures of these effects lies in reducing the damage caused due to its exposure and more significant minimizing or prohibiting alcohol consumption amongst pregnant women. Finally, the other relevant sites related to this teratogen are http://rsoa.org/fas.html and http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fas/default.htm.
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