A new MRI study revealed that consumption of alcohol even in low to moderate amounts during pregnancy can change the baby’s brain structure and delay brain development. Results of the study will be presented next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
“Fetal MRI is a highly specialized and safe examination method that allows us to make accurate statements about brain maturation prenatally,” said study senior author Gregor Kasprian, M.D., associate professor of radiology from the Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can expose the fetus to a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Babies born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders could develop learning disabilities, behavioral problems or speech and language delays.
“Unfortunately, many pregnant women are unaware of the influence of alcohol on the fetus during pregnancy,” said lead author Patric Kienast, M.D., a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-Guided Therapy, Division of Neuroradiology and Musculoskeletal Radiology at the Medical University of Vienna. “Therefore, it is our responsibility not only to do the research but also to actively educate the public about the effects of alcohol on the fetus.”
For the study, researchers analyzed MRI exams of 24 fetuses with prenatal alcohol exposure. The fetuses were between 22 and 36 weeks of gestation at the time of MRI. Alcohol exposure was determined via anonymous surveys of the mothers. The questionnaires used were the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), a surveillance project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health departments, and the T-ACE Screening Tool, a measurement tool of four questions that identify risk drinking.
In fetuses with alcohol exposure, the fetal total maturation score (fTMS) was significantly lower than in the age-matched controls, and the right superior temporal sulcus (STS) was shallower. The STS is involved in social cognition, audiovisual integration and language perception.
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