Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a group of birth defects that are caused when an unborn baby (fetus) is exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. Possible symptoms include a variety of mental and physical problems.

FAS is a lifelong (chronic) condition. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe.

3 Interesting Facts of Fetal alcohol syndrome

  1. Intellectual disability, microcephaly, growth deficiency, behavioral dysfunction, and similar characteristic facial features (smooth philtrum, thin vermilion border, and small palpebral fissures) are features of both Williams and fetal alcohol syndromes
  2. Distinguishing features of fetal alcohol syndrome include history of excessive maternal consumption of alcohol and in utero exposure
  3. Definitively differentiated from Williams syndrome on the basis of normal results of molecular genetic testing

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes through the placenta and into the fetus. A fetal liver is not mature enough to process alcohol in the same way that an adult liver does.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of FAS vary depending on the amount of alcohol that was consumed and when it was consumed during pregnancy.

Symptoms in babies may include:

  • Decreased growth before and after birth.
  • Sleep and sucking disorders.
  • Unusual fussiness.
  • Abnormally small head size.
  • Changes in the shape of the face and facial features.

As a baby ages, other symptoms may appear, including:

  • Slower achievement of normal, expected skills (developmental delay), such as thinking (cognitive) skills, social skills, and talking.
  • Vision and hearing problems.
  • Behavior and attention problems, such as hyperactivity or anxiety.
  • Speech problems.
  • Learning problems and intellectual disability.
  • Heart defects.
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills.
  • Poor motor skills and coordination.

How is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on a physical exam of the baby. Tests may be done to check for problems with the heart and other organs. Tests may include:

  • Ultrasound of the kidneys. This uses sound waves to make a picture of the kidneys.
  • Echocardiogram. This uses sound waves to make a picture of the heart.

How is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome treated?

There is no cure for this condition. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and which symptoms the child has. Treatment options may include:

  • Speech therapy.
  • Medicines for behavioral and attention problems.
  • Devices to help with hearing.
  • Vision correction.
  • Surgery for heart defects.
  • Counseling for behavioral problems.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Place your child in appropriate educational classes.
  • Give your child over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • If your child has behavioral problems, it may be helpful to take some of these actions:
    • Join a support group of families who are affected by FAS.
    • Keep consistent daily routines that your child can rely upon.
    • Create a structured home life with clear rules and limits.
    • Be brief when you give directions or instructions to your child.
    • Reinforce positive behavior with praise and rewards.
    • Prevent other children from taking advantage of your child.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You are having problems coping with your child’s behavior.
  • Your child develops new symptoms, such as new hearing or vision problems.

Get help right away if:

Your child has a seizure.


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