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Basics about FASDs

Fetal alcohol syndrome causes brain damage and growth problems. The problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome vary from child to child, but defects caused by fetal alcohol syndrome are not reversible. It is difficult to diagnosis FASDs, because there is no single or simple test that can cover the broad range of FASD signs and symptoms. A known history of alcohol consumption during the pregnancy aids in diagnosis but is not required for diagnosis of an FASD. FASD is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, which is the leading preventable cause of congenital conditions in the United States. There are currently five types of FASD, including FAS, diagnosed by prenatal alcohol exposure, craniofacial dysmorphology, growth impairment, and neurodevelopmental problems.

fetal alcohol syndrome

Adolescents exposed prenatally to cocaine, alcohol, or cigarettes showed reductions in total brain volume and in gray matter in the brain’s cerebral cortex, important in many cognitive functions. Many drugs can pass from a mother’s blood stream through the placenta to the fetus. This can cause the alcohol levels to remain high and stay in your baby’s body longer. Alcohol was not viewed as dangerous for pregnant people until 1973 when the diagnosis of FAS was first implemented. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not make a public awareness announcement about the side effects of alcohol use during pregnancy until 1977.


A child with FAS will not necessarily have all of these symptoms. Additionally, many of these symptoms can occur due to other conditions. A healthcare professional specializing in FAS can help determine the cause.

  • Thus, the potential prevalence of FAS may also increase in Korea.
  • FASD is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, which is the leading preventable cause of congenital conditions in the United States.

It’s also recommended that you avoid beverages containing alcohol when you’re trying to become pregnant. Many people don’t know they’re pregnant for the first few weeks of pregnancy (four to six weeks). This is because it takes time for your body to build up enough hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone that develops in early pregnancy) to be detected on a pregnancy test.

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The Department of Neurology cares for infants, children, and adolescents with all types of neurologic and developmental disorders. An estimated 50–90% of people with FASD are also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and many other people have secondary mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. There is no safe amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy.

  • According to many studies, alcohol use appears to be most harmful during the first three months of pregnancy.
  • Babies and children with alcohol-related damage often need developmental follow-up and, possibly, long-term treatment and care.
  • It’s also recommended that you not drink alcohol if you’re sexually active and not using effective birth control.
  • They will look at behavioral symptoms, such as attention and coordination.
  • There are currently five conditions that make up FASD, including fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
  • The CDC explains that it’s difficult to know the true prevalence of FASDs.

Speak with a doctor if you’re pregnant and have been consuming alcohol. Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss why you think your child may have an FASD. You can share your concerns and ask for a referral to a doctor who specializes in FASDs for further support. Experts explain that diagnosis may involve a team of doctors and other professionals and may include a neuropsychological exam. It is never too late to take steps to prevent FAS or to seek help for a child showing symptoms of FAS. People should speak with a doctor or FAS specialist as soon as possible if they have concerns.

How much alcohol causes fetal alcohol syndrome?

Newborns may need special care in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). CDC is working to make alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) a routine element of health care in all primary care settings. You may also find it helpful to contact a support group for people with FASD. These can be a good source of advice and they may be able to connect you with other people in a similar situation. Your child may be referred to a specialist team for an assessment if there’s a possibility they have the condition. Choose a symptom and answer simple questions using our physician-reviewed Symptom Checker to find a possible diagnosis for your health issue.

  • Alcohol use at any time during pregnancy may lead to issues with growth or the central nervous system.
  • It takes most people 4–6 weeks to confirm that they are pregnant after having penetrative sex.
  • They work together to conduct research on FAS, in addition to counseling and campaigning to prevent FAS, sending missions to developing countries, and publishing books for public education.
  • A National Institutes of Health-funded study led by Michael Rivkin, MD, of Neurology, suggests that such exposures may have effects on brain structure that persist into adolescence.
  • Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss why you think your child may have an FASD.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a developmental and congenital disorder characterized by neurocognitive impairment, structural defects, and growth restriction due to prenatal alcohol exposure.

Early diagnosis may help to reduce problems such as learning difficulties and behavioral issues. Your doctor will look for physical symptoms, such as a low birth weight and a small head. They will look at behavioral symptoms, such as attention and coordination. Your doctor will ask you if you drank while you were pregnant and if so, how much. FAS can be difficult to diagnose in childhood because it has similar symptoms to other disorders, such as ADHD. However, while higher amounts of alcohol are more harmful, there is no known amount or type of alcohol that is safe to consume while pregnant.

There are variable processes in the effects of alcohol on the fetus. These influences produce variable outcomes, from stillbirths, structural anomaly in infancy to neurobehavioral disorders in adolescence. To diagnose someone with FAS, the doctor must determine that they have abnormal facial features, slower than normal growth, and central nervous system problems. These nervous system problems could be physical or behavioral. They might present as hyperactivity, lack of coordination or focus, or learning disabilities. Fetal alcohol syndrome happens when a person drinks any alcohol during pregnancy, including wine, beer, hard ciders and “hard liquor”.

Early identification can maximize help in the treatment of FASD and in building supportive networks with other individuals and families impacted by FASD. FASDs are preventable if a baby is not exposed to alcohol before birth. If you drink alcohol during pregnancy you risk causing harm to your baby.

What Are the Types of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

One reason alcohol is dangerous during pregnancy is that it’s passed through your bloodstream to the fetus through the umbilical cord. The baby doesn’t metabolize (break down) alcohol in the same way an adult does – it stays in the body for a longer period of time. Because early diagnosis may help reduce the risk of long-term problems for children with fetal alcohol syndrome, let your child’s doctor know if you drank alcohol while you were pregnant. The severity of fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms varies, with some children experiencing them to a far greater degree than others. Signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome may include any mix of physical defects, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, and problems functioning and coping with daily life. In addition, children with fetal alcohol syndrome can develop secondary conditions related to FAS.

Other conditions may commonly co-occur with FASD, stemming from prenatal alcohol exposure. However, these conditions are considered alcohol-related birth defects[20] and not diagnostic criteria for FAS. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are 100 percent preventable. However, this requires that a mother stop using alcohol before becoming pregnant.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Different patterns of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have various effects on the fetus. Specifically, animal and human studies have shown that binge drinking is more detrimental to fetal development than constant drinking [24–27]. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of 5 or more drinks on a single occasion (a standard drink is defined as approximately 14 g of pure alcohol) [24,28]. This is because a higher peak blood alcohol concentration worsens fetal brain damage and leads to prolonged alcohol exposure; therefore, metabolizing all the alcohol that has been consumed takes time [24]. Recently, several studies have objectively assessed the patterns of maternal alcohol consumption and identified infants who exhibit FAS-related deficits in growth by biological analysis [29–32]. In some cases, your healthcare provider might be able to diagnose a child with fetal alcohol syndrome at birth based on small size and specific physical appearance.

fetal alcohol syndrome

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