Fetal alcohol syndrome, a preventable tragedy


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am giving my opinion on fetal alcohol syndrome. Having adopted children with FAS, I know firsthand the struggles that they face for the rest of their lives. Any drink during pregnancy is too many. FAS is a totally preventable condition but a lifetime sentence. — D.M.

 ANSWER: The public needs constant reminding of fetal alcohol syndrome. It is a preventable tragedy, and the one who is the victim has no say in preventing it. It happens to far too many babies — one or two infants out of every 1,000 newborns. Those who are leaders in this field plead with women not to drink at all during pregnancy or when trying to become pregnant. The frequency and the amount of alcohol drunk influence the severity of the syndrome. No one knows what is a “dangerous” level of alcohol. Until that can be quantified, pregnant women should regard any alcohol as a toxin to their infant and therefore abstain from all alcoholic drinks.

FAS stunts the growth of the fetus and of the child later in life. The baby’s head is smaller than it should be. Certain facial abnormalities occur: The corner of the eyes next to the nose can be covered with a fold of skin, the upper and lower jaws are smaller than normal, the upper lip is unusually thin, and the indentation between the nose and upper lip isn’t present. Heart defects are possible. The child’s ability to learn is greatly reduced. Thank you for reminding us of this avoidable misfortune.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a sister who lives in Southern California who loves your column. I mail them to her every day. Which operation is easier to recover from — hip or knee replacement? My sister and I don’t agree, and we’re curious as to what you would say. — M.S.

 ANSWER: A reflex, off-the-top-of-my-head answer is that knee replacement is easier to recover from. However, both surgeries can be done in a number of different ways, and it’s hard to make a comparison without knowing the exact surgical procedure. The hip joint is a much more complicated joint and has more motility than the knee. After hospitalization, people with a hip replacement often spend a week or two in a rehabilitation center. Two more weeks of rehab at home are needed after that. Replacement of a knee often necessitates rehabilitation in a center, with some continued home rehab after that. The knee has a more limited range of motion. Total time in rehabilitation is slightly less than the time for a hip replacement. Now that I have spent a little more time thinking about it, there’s not a huge different in rehab time between the two. Say hello to your sister for me.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My wife read some 25 or 30 years ago that the human digestive system cannot digest raw carrots. Therefore, raw carrots have no food value. We fed copious amounts of them our children. What do you say? — P.T.

 ANSWER: Humans digest raw carrots. I offer carotenemia as proof. It’s a yellowish to orange discoloration of the skin, most often the palms and soles, that happens to people who eat humongous amounts of carrots. It comes from the beta carotene in carrots. It’s harmless and leaves when consumption is reduced. It shows, however, that raw carrots are digested. My friend’s wife had it.

For Dr. V.T. of Canada: Thank you for your kind words. I would have written you a personal letter, but envelopes are not passed to me, so I didn’t have your address.

 Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.