Fetal alcohol syndrome

Abdomen | Obstetrics and Gynaecology | Fetal alcohol syndrome (Disease)


An infant born to a mother who drinks alcohol during pregnancy can have problems included in a group of disorders called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). One of the condition FASDs can give is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

These are the most severe effects that can occur when a woman drinks during pregnancy, and include fetal death. Infants born with FAS have abnormal facial features and growth and central nervous system (CNS) problems, including mental retardation.

Causes and Risk factors

The main effect of FAS is permanent central nervous system damage, especially to the brain. Developing brain cells and structures can be malformed or have development interrupted by prenatal alcohol exposure; this can create an array of primary cognitive and functional disabilities (including poor memory, attention deficits, impulsive behavior, and poor cause-effect reasoning) as well as secondary disabilities (for example, predispositions to mental health problems and drug addiction). Alcohol exposure presents a risk of fetal brain damage at any point during a pregnancy, since brain development is ongoing throughout pregnancy.

Most of the features of FAS are variable. They may or may not be present in a given child. However, the most common and consistent features of FAS involve the growth, performance, intelligence, head and face, skeleton, and heart of the child.

Growth is diminished. Birth weight is lessened. Retardation of longitudinal growth is evident on the measurements of length in infancy and of standing height later in childhood. The growth lag is permanent. Intelligence is diminished. The average IQ is in the 60s.

The head is small (microcephalic). This decrease may not even be apparent to family and friends. It is evident upon comparison of the childs head circumference to that of a normal child on a growth chart. The usual degree of microcephaly in FAS is classified as mild to moderate. It is primarily due to failure of brain growth. The consequences are neither mild nor moderate.

Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome, because the central nervous system (CNS) damage creates a permanent disability, but treatment is possible. Therapy depends on the extent of this damage and the symptoms experienced, but may include: special education programs and family counseling. ...