Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Also known as: FAS, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol spectrum are a group of birth defects that occur when a woman drinks alcohol while pregnant. FAS is the most severe form of this disorder.

What causes fetal alcohol syndrome?

The liver in an older child can break down alcohol. When a baby is developing in the mother's womb, their livers are immature and can't deal with the alcohol that reaches it from crossing the mother's placenta.

Alcohol is a toxin that interrupts development and damages fetal organs as they are developing. There is no safe amount of alcohol that could be consumed.

What are the signs/symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome?

FAS can affect infants in different ways and problems may be mild to severe. Signs include:

  • Distinctive facial features, like small wide-set or narrow eyes, thin upper lip, upturned nose
  • Vision and/or hearing difficulties
  • Growth problems
  • Problems with the nervous system (small head and brain size)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Low IQ
  • Problems with memory
  • Problems coordination and attention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Sleeping and sucking difficulties
  • Heart, kidney and bone issues
  • Other longer term problems including neurological, social and behavioral problems

Later complications include Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Syndrome (ADHD), aggression, alcohol/drug misuse, mental health problems, school difficulties and others.

What are fetal alcohol syndrome care options?

Fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be cured and problems persist throughout life. Early intervention, medications and a team comprising a variety of health care and special education teachers/speech and occupational therapists can improve outcomes.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: November 18, 2021 03:14 PM

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