Testing for maternal alcohol biomarkers in blood may help identify pregnancies at high FAS risk

It is well known that drinking during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the offspring. Unfortunately, not all pregnant women are truthful about their levels of drinking. This study explored the feasibility of testing for various alcohol biomarkers in the blood of pregnant women to help identify pregnancies that are at high-risk for FAS.

Finnish researchers accessed data from a nation-wide register containing information on all live births in Finland from 1987 to 2005. FAS cases (n=565) were identified from the Finnish Register of Congenital Malformations. Background information was obtained from the Finnish Medical Birth Register. Serum samples, collected at the mother's first visit to maternity care, were obtained from the national Finnish Maternity Cohort biobank. Biomarkers of alcohol consumption - gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), a combination of GGT and CDT (GGT-CDT), and ethylglucuronide (EtG) - were analyzed from the blood of mothers of 385 FAS cases and 745 non-FAS controls.

The authors found that median levels of all biomarkers were significantly higher among the mothers of FAS children than in the control mothers. Nearly half (46%) of the mothers with affected offspring could be identified based on the biomarker data. The predictive association was highest for the GGT-CDT combination. The researchers suggest that testing for alcohol biomarkers during the first trimester may help to identify pregnancies that are high risk for FAS.


Research Society on Alcoholism


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