Prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood balance: a systematic review


Rachel Humphriss, Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies, University of Bristol,
8 Woodland Road, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TN, UK.


Humphriss R, Hall A, Macleod J. Prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood balance: a systematic review. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 2010; 24: 156–165.

Balance problems in childhood have known adverse psychosocial associations such as poorer quality of life and lower educational achievement. Previous longitudinal studies have documented an adverse effect of prenatal alcohol exposure on a variety of neurodevelopmental outcomes and so an effect on balance would seem plausible. This is supported by a previous laboratory study that found that rats exposed to ethanol in utero have dysfunctional balance and gait. The present study is a systematic review of the current evidence on the effects of maternal alcohol use during pregnancy on offspring balance in childhood.

A search strategy was devised and applied in the CENTRAL database (Cochrane Collaboration). Prospective longitudinal studies were then sought using databases including Medline, EMBASE, PsychInfo, CINAHL and AMED. In addition, citations in relevant published papers and books were followed up and experts in the field were contacted. No relevant human experimental studies were found. Four longitudinal studies were found to have assessed balance in preschool children. Only one of these studies suggested strong or substantial effects of alcohol exposure on balance-related outcomes. However, this study appeared the most methodologically robust. In conclusion, at present, there is limited evidence on the possible effects of alcohol exposure on childhood balance.