Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

What is Fetal alcohol syndrome ?

Definition : Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), as the name suggests is a syndrome that affects the fetus due to excessive consumption of alcohol by pregnant mothers.

Kenneth Jones and David Smith, in the year 1973 were the first to coin the term – Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for describing a peculiar characteristic pattern of birth defects and development disabilities in infants born to severely alcoholic women. This syndrome is characterized by [1].

  1. Growth retardation
  2. Neuro – developmental abnormalities
  3. Characteristic facial anomalies

It has been studied that when women consume alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol crosses the placenta and causes adverse effects on the fetal development. These adverse effects consist of physical disabilities, mental retardation, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities and vision difficulties [2].

The effects are non-reversible and stay on for the entire life. The effect of these can however be lessened to an extent with proper treatment and management.

Fetal alcohol syndrome Pictures

Fetal alcohol syndrome image photo picture


Fetal alcohol syndrome images photos Fetal alcohol syndrome pictures

Fetal alcohol syndrome in adults

It needs to be very well understood that fetal alcohol syndrome is not just a childhood disorder, but continues to haunt them even when they reach the stage of adolescence and adulthood. Adults with fetal alcohol syndrome continue to remain short and are micro cephalic [3].

Victims of fetal alcohol syndrome have disrupted mental health, inappropriate sexual behavior, tendency to have alcohol and drug problems, have trouble with the law and have difficulty caring for themselves and their children [4].

Causes of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Alcohol consumption is the – only causative factor for fetal alcohol syndrome. It has to be understood that alcohol even in small quantities has proven to be harmful for the developing fetus.

Pregnant women are advised to stay away from alcohol throughout the pregnancy period. This is so because; alcohol has the potential to cross the placental barrier which in turn causes harm to the fetus.

Research has shown that, the fetus metabolizes alcohol slowly as compared to adults and as a result of this; the concentration of alcohol in the fetal blood is higher as compared to those of the adults. Alcohol is known to diminish the oxygen supply to the fetus and it also hampers the availability of nutrition to the growing baby’s brain, organs and tissues.

It has to be understood that there is no “safe-level” for alcohol consumption by pregnant women [5]. Women who are involved in binge drinking and those who drink large quantities of alcohol put their babies at increased risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome.

It has been a well established fact that alcohol consumption during the first 3 months of pregnancy is harmful. The first 3 months of pregnancy is very important from the point of view of development of the central nervous system. Hence, drinking alcohol during this period is considered to be extremely harmful.

Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome manifests as distinctive facial features which are characterized by

  • Small eye
  • Short and upturned nose
  • Unusually thin upper lip
  • The surface of the skin between the nose and upper lips is smooth

Other symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome are mentioned below [6]:

  • Delay in physical growth before and after birth
  • Deformities in the joints, limbs and fingers
  • Hearing and vision disabilities
  • Mental retardation
  • Poor coordinating abilities
  • Microcephaly characterized by smaller than normal brain size and small head circumference
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Short attention span
  • Excessive nervousness
  • Defects concerning the cardiac system

Fetal alcohol syndrome facts

Fetal alcohol syndrome brings along many devastating effects that stay on for the entire life. These devastating effects consist of [7, 8]

  • Growth abnormalities
  • Abnormalities of the head and face
  • Functional abnormalities
  • Behavior management problems and
  • Abnormalities in brain development

Apart from these adverse effects, fetal alcohol syndrome poses a great burden on the country’s economy. Check below for some of the eye opening facts about this syndrome [9].

  • It has been estimated that the life time cost for a single child diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome is about $1.4 billion
  • In the year 1992, the cost incurred for treating children, infants and adults for FAS crossed $1.9 billion
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome is not just limited to childhood and infancy, but its effects stays on for the entire life
  • It has been estimated that children with FAS, may show an increased dependence on alcohol, tobacco and drug later in their life
  • Surgeon General, in 1981 was the first to advice women not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.
  • It has also been stated clearly in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (1990) that pregnant woman should not consume alcohol during pregnancy.

Statistics on Fetal alcohol syndrome

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 0.2 – 1.5 cases of Fetal Alcohol syndrome occur for every 1,000 births across the United States [10].
  • In the year, 2002, it had been calculated that the life time cost for an individual with FAS was about $2 billion
  • It has also been estimated that in the United States, the cost for treating only FAS is over $4 billion / year

Some statistics that speak of alcohol – dependence during pregnancy

  • Statistics has revealed that of all the women who reportedly had a tendency to drink during pregnancy; 66% of them do so in their 1st trimester and 54% of them continued even in their 3rd trimester.
  • In the year 1995, it was reported that there was four times increase in the consumption of alcohol by pregnant women.

Treatment of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

It needs to be understood properly that fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be cured. But yes, it can certainly be treated, so that the individual can discharge their daily activities with minimum help. However, there is no single type of treatment that would work for all children with FAS [11].

The earlier the disease is diagnosed the more effective is the treatment. Children with FAS often have varied problems, which makes treatment more difficult [5]. There are several organizations that are known to provide treatment for FAS.


Research has revealed that fetal alcohol syndrome is completely preventable and that early diagnosis can help treat the disease to a large extent. By now, it has been a well established fact that drinking alcohol, poses great risk for the developing fetus.

Hence, the only way by which this disease can be kept at bay is by completely avoiding alcohol during pregnancy.

It has been advised that, women who are sexually active should regularly take contraception and avoid drinking alcohol before they wish to get pregnant.

There have been many studies stating a certain amount of alcohol to be safe for pregnant women; however, according to Surgeon General, women should never consume alcohol during pregnancy.

Stay away from alcohol and gift your child an alcohol free life!!


  1. http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jpme.1998.26.issue-4/jpme.1998.26.4.263/jpme.1998.26.4.263.xml
  2. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fetal-alcohol-syndrome/DS00184
  3. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=385636
  4. http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/FetalAlcoholSyndrome.html
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001909/
  6. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fetal-alcohol-syndrome/DS00184/DSECTION=symptoms
  7. http://www.cspinet.org/booze/fas.htm
  8. http://journals.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?Volume=155&page=552&journalID=13
  9. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/programs/fas/factsheets/secondary/faqfas.htm
  10. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/data.html
  11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_alcohol_syndrome

Published on January 17th, 2018 by under Pregnancy.
Article was last reviewed on January 17th, 2018.

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