Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Overview

Definition

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) belongs to a group of health problems called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). It happens when a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol can cause birth and growth defects in the baby. These defects make up FAS.

Causes

Alcohol can cross from the mother's blood to the baby's blood. Even a small amount of any type can harm a growing baby.

Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby
baby fetus placenta
Alcohol travels through this path and affects the baby's development, particularly the heart and brain.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Things that raise your baby's chance of FAS are:

  • Unplanned pregnancy or not knowing you are pregnant and still drinking
  • Alcohol use disorder

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Birth and growth problems depend on when the exposure happened and how much was consumed.

Babies with FAS may have:

  • Low birth weight
  • Small size and delayed growth
  • Small head
  • Small eyes
  • Short, flat nose
  • Flat cheeks
  • Small jaws
  • Misshapen ears
  • Thin upper lip
  • Shaking
  • Sight and hearing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Small, unusually formed brain
  • Problems seeing

As the infant grows, other symptoms may develop, including:

  • Difficulty eating and sleeping
  • Delayed speech
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability
  • Poor coordination
  • Behavior problems
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Problems getting along with other children

Children do not outgrow these problems. Teens and adults often have social and emotional problems. They may also have:

  • Problems at school
  • Problems keeping a job
  • Trouble living on one's own
  • Mental health problems
  • Alcohol or drug dependence
  • Anxiety problems
  • Anger problems
  • Legal problems

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your alcohol intake while pregnant. The child's growth will be checked. A physical exam will be done. FAS may be found due to:

  • History of alcohol use
  • Facial features
  • Slow growth
  • Nervous system problems

Finding FAS early can help your child get proper care.

Treatments

Treatment

There is no one treatment for FAS. Early intervention is helpful, as well as a supportive, nurturing home. The doctor may advise hearing and vision tests, as well as testing for any other health problems from FAS.

Social Services

Professional support helps a family cope with caring for a child with special needs. This includes parent training. You can learn ways to handle behavioral problems and stress.

Special Education

Programs designed to meet your child's needs can help with learning. Messages may need to be repeated. Tasks may need to be broken down into smaller steps.

Supportive Environment

A supportive environment:

  • Provides direction and structure
  • Keeps to routines
  • Uses basic rules, limits, and consequences
  • Praising good behaviors
  • Doesn't use threats and violence. These raise the risk that the child will learn to react in a the same way. Your child may need special training to learn ways to handle anger.

Prevention

To prevent FAS:

  • Do not drink alcohol if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
  • Avoid heavy drinking when not using birth control. Damage can happen before you even know you are pregnant.
  • Use birth control until you are able to quit drinking.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Alcohol in Pregnancy; Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy; FAS)

RESOURCES

Kids Health—Nemours Foundation  http://www.kidshealth.org 

March of Dimes https://www.marchofdimes.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Greater Toronto Area Intergroup http://aatoronto.org 

Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca 

References

Chaudhuri JD. Alcohol and the developing fetus—A review. Med Sci Monit. 2000;6(5):1031-1041.

Drinking and your pregnancy. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/DrinkingPregnancy%5FHTML/pregnancy.htm. Published 2006. Accessed July 2, 2018.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114397/Fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder . Updated November 6, 2017. Accessed July 2, 2018.

Nayak RB, Murthy P. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Indian Pediatr. 2008;45(12):977-983.

Prenatal exposure to alcohol. Alcohol Res Health. 2000;24(1):32-41.

Thackray H, Tifft C. Fetal alcohol syndrome. Pediatr Rev. 2001;22(2):47-55.