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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders : An Overview

October 12, 2023

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a permanent condition that happens when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol while pregnant. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy interferes with the development of the baby and causes defects both physically and mentally. This syndrome is one of the most dangerous conditions within a group of disorders called Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

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What is the Difference Between Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has a variety of effects on the fetus's development. The effect of this usage is that the symptoms may be severe or mild. FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) is a group of symptoms that range from the least severe to the most severe side effects. Among this group of diseases, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one of the most severe conditions. Other conditions that fall under FASD are:

  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome: Children with pFAS, will have some of the symptoms of FAS. For instance, facial features are different from normal.
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder: Inattentiveness, impulsiveness, challenges in school performance and impairment in judgement are some of the symptoms ARND.
  • Alcohol-related birth defects: There are abnormal changes in various parts of the body. These birth defects can affect the kidneys, ears, skeletal system, heart and eyes.
  • Neurobehavioural disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure: A person with this condition is exposed to a very minimal amount of alcohol in the fetal stage. They may face challenges in their daily lives, like taking a bath or struggle in their social lives. They may also face trouble with memory and thinking

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Symptoms

It is a set of diagnoses that show a range of effects when a fetus is exposed to alcohol. These conditions affect every individual in a different way and can range from mild to severe. An individual with FASD may show the following symptoms:

  • Poor coordination
  • Hyperactivity
  • Low weight and height
  • Attention deficit
  • Poor memory
  • Learning disability, especially math
  • Speech delays
  • Low IQ or intellectual disability
  • Poor judgement and reasoning skills
  • Sleep problems as a baby
  • Hearing or vision problems
  • Problems with bones, heart and kidneys
  • The head size is small
  • Abnormal facial features like a ridge between the upper lip and nose and the ridge is called philtrum.

Fetal alcohol syndrome in adults may develop over time too if they are exposed to alcohol as a fetus.

FASD Diagnosis

  • Prenatal exposure to alcohol, though there is no need for confirmation of the same for diagnosis.
  • Problems with the central nervous system. For instance, poor coordination, small head size, hyperactivity and low attention.
  • Lower than average weight and height.
  • Abnormal facial features

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Treatment

This is a disorder that lasts a lifetime and there is no cure for it. However, as per research, early intervention and treatment can help improve the child’s development. Some of the treatment options include medication for some of the symptoms, education and behaviour therapy, training parents and alternative approaches. There is no single treatment and what works for one child may not work for another. Close monitoring, treatment changes

as and when needed and follow-ups are important as part of a solid treatment plan. Protective factors help reduce the symptoms of FASDs and help them reach their potential. These protective factors include:

  • Early diagnosis before the age of 6 years
  • A stable home with a loving and nurturing environment
  • No violence
  • Providing special education to the child

FASD Prevention

FASD happens when a fetus is exposed to alcohol. If a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, the mother’s blood that has alcohol is shared by the baby and that may lead to a spectrum of disorders. There is no safe limit on alcohol consumption during pregnancy or when trying to have a baby. Also, there is no time when it is safe to drink while pregnant. Consuming alcohol causes physical as well as mental health issues for the developing baby, including even before getting pregnant. Wine, beer and all types of alcohol are harmful to the fetus. The only way to prevent FASDs is to avoid alcohol completely when a woman decides to have a baby and also abstain from drinking during pregnancy. However, if an expectant mother is already drinking, it is not too late to stop, as brain development in a baby happens throughout the duration of the pregnancy. Stopping consumption can help improve health and overall well-being. FASDs are preventable when the baby is not exposed to any amount of alcohol before birth.


1. What are fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders?

Fetal Alcohol syndrome is a condition that happens in a developing baby when the mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy or a few weeks before she is pregnant. A group of symptoms that occur together due to a particular disease is called a syndrome. When Fetal alcohol Syndrome is at its most severe form, it is known as Fetal Alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

2. What is the difference between fetal alcohol syndrome and spectrum disorder?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Spectrum Disorder is a result of exposure to alcohol as a fetus. It includes other disorders like PFAS, ARND, ARBD and ND-PAE. One of the most severe forms of this syndrome is Fetal alcohol syndrome.

3. What are the 3 facial features of fetal alcohol syndrome?

The 3 facial features are: smooth philtrum, thin upper vermillion and shortened palpebral fissures.

4. What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder's leading cause?

FASD is the leading cause of brain damage in developing fetuses and is called congenital neurological deficits. That is related to alcohol intake by the mother.

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