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First-Trimester Heavy Drinking Linked to Birth Defect Risk

But researchers find only low prevalence of defects classified as alcohol-related by IOM

MONDAY, Sept. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers in Australia have found that heavy drinking in the first trimester appears to increase the risk of birth defects four-fold, though they found a low prevalence of alcohol-related birth defects (ARBDs) as classified by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), according to research published online Sept. 27 in Pediatrics.

Colleen M. O'Leary, Ph.D., of the University of Western Australia in Perth, and colleagues studied data from a randomly selected, population-based cohort of 4,714 women who gave birth between 1995 and 1997 to assess the association between birth defects and prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) by dose, pattern, and timing.

The researchers found a low prevalence of ARBDs as classified by the IOM; however, heavy PAE in the first trimester was associated with four times the odds of ARBDs compared with abstinence (adjusted odds ratio, 4.6). No association was found between low or moderate PAE and birth defects.

"A four-fold increased risk of birth defects classified as ARBDs was observed after heavy PAE in the first trimester. Many individual birth defects included in the IOM classification for ARBDs either were not present in this cohort or were not associated with PAE. Large, population-based studies are needed to strengthen the evidence base for ARBDs," the authors write.

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