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Fetal Alcohol Exposure May Cause Lasting Harm

Study found intellectual deficits in affected 7-year-olds

TUESDAY, Aug. 16, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to alcohol in the womb has a lasting impact on children's cognitive abilities, causing slower reaction times and attention problems, according to a new study.

"The real-world implications of this are that children exposed prenatally to alcohol may be able to perform simple tasks, but may struggle with tasks that are more challenging and require complex cognition and the use of working memory," co-researcher Julie Croxford, a graduate research assistant at Wayne State University School of Medicine, in Detroit, said in a prepared statement.

"This is likely to mean that these children may be more and more challenged the older they get by the demands placed on them within the school system and within their day-to-day social interactions," Croxford added.

The findings appear in the August issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The study of 337 children found that children, 7.5 years old, who were exposed to alcohol in the womb were able to perform as well as other children on simple tasks. However, as tasks became more demanding and challenging, these children showed signs of significantly slower cognitive processing speeds.

The children were assessed in four domains of cognitive function: short-term memory scanning, mental rotation, number comparison, and arrow-discrimination processing.

"We also found that prenatal alcohol exposure was associated with poorer efficiency on number processing, a finding consistent with past research showing more specific adverse effects in the arithmetic domain," said co-researcher Matthew J. Burden, a postdoctoral research fellow at Wayne State. "Arithmetic performance may be relatively more compromised with prenatal alcohol exposure than other types of intellectual performance, such as verbal abilities."

More information

The March of Dimes has more about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, Aug. 14, 2005
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