Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

This is a permanent condition and it occurs when an individual consumes alcohol during pregnancy. It is called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Alcohol use interacts with the baby’s development and provokes physical and mental defects. FAS is the most severe condition within a group called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

FAS is a condition that happens in a fetus when a female drinks alcohol during pregnancy. Unfortunately, once a baby gets this condition, it is life-long and cannot be cured. The only way to prevent this problem is to avoid alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. In some circumstances, fetus development can be affected by a small amount of alcohol.

What is a Syndrome?

Different symptoms that occur together due to a disease or abnormal condition are called a syndrome.

What is The Difference between FAS and FASDs?

The baby’s development can be negatively affected in several ways if the fetus is exposed to alcohol. Alcohol consumption during a pregnancy can provoke from mild to severe symptoms. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a group of conditions while FAS is the most severe condition from this group. Check below other conditions that belong to FASDs:

  • Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE) – Commonly, those who experience this condition are exposed to alcohol in more than small amounts. The trouble with daily tasks (including bathing), significant behavior problems, severe tantrums, difficulty thinking, and memory problems are symptoms noticed in persons who suffer from ND-PAE.
  • Alcohol-related Birth Defects (ARBD) – Those who suffer from ARBD often experience birth defects (including abnormal changes that negatively affect the heart, eyes, skeletal system, ears, kidneys, and others).
  • Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) – Those who experience this disorder can experience some or all of the following symptoms. Examples include impulsiveness, inattentiveness, problems with judgment, and school performance.
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS) – People with this condition may have some characteristics of FAS but not all.

How Common is FAS?

However, there are no exact statistics about how many people suffer from FASD. In some cases, it may be difficult to diagnose a person with FASD because of the variety of symptoms and spectrum of severity. However, many people feel ashamed to talk with the healthcare professional that they drank during pregnancy.

In any case, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other researchers, less than 2 persons experience FASDs in every 1000 births in the U.S.

Symptoms

The symptoms of FAS usually are different among people. While someone can experience mild symptoms others may suffer from severe symptoms (including mental and physical problems). In addition, emotional and mental challenges also can happen during a person’s entire life.

Infants

Check below some symptoms that usually occur in infants with FAS:

  • Low body weight
  • Abnormal facial characteristics (including smooth ridge between the nose, thin upper lip, and small eyes)
  • Short height
  • Small head size
  • Sleep and sucking problems
  • Hearing or vision issues

Early Childhood and Thereafter

  • Delayed language and speech development
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty making the difference between fantasy and reality
  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning disabilities
  • Low IQ
  • Poor coordination, judgment skills, school performance, short-term memory, and others

How Early Can Healthcare Providers Diagnose FAS?

Doctors may be able to diagnose this condition at birth based on small size and specific physical appearance. In other cases, diagnosing FASD can be difficult because these disorders can be present in childhood or early adulthood with mild social or intellectual problems.

Causes

If a woman drinks alcohol (including beer, wine, hard ciders, and others) FAS occurs in a fetus. Without alcohol, this condition cannot happen. However, when a person drinks alcohol during pregnancy it passes into the bloodstream and to the fetus through the umbilical cord. The problem is that the baby cannot metabolize (break down) the alcohol as an adult does, which makes alcohol stay in the body for a longer time. The baby’s development is negatively affected by alcohol in the following ways. Examples include:

  • Toxic byproducts can accumulate in the baby’s brain cells causing damage. These byproducts are created when the body processes alcohol.
  • However, alcoholic drinks tend to narrow the blood vessels, which slows down the blood flow to the placenta. This effect provokes a decrease in nutrients and oxygen to the fetus.
  • Never cells development also is affected by alcohol.
  • An abnormal physical development happens because alcohol kills cells in different parts of the fetus’s body.

Fetus development damage can occur at any point during pregnancy because organs continue to develop throughout pregnancy. That’s why it is impossible to say the exact point of all the development during a pregnancy. Therefore, drinking alcohol becomes risky even before birth. Moreover, it would help if you did not drink alcohol when you trying to become pregnant because people usually do not know they are pregnant first weeks of pregnancy (usually between 4-6 weeks). At the same time, the fetus goes through a massive surge of development and alcohol can negatively affect the baby.

How Much Alcohol Provokes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

However, there is no safe amount of alcohol that a female can drink during a pregnancy. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause FAS. In addition, all alcohol types such as hard liquor and ciders, wine, beer, and others can provoke FAS.

Diagnosis

Unfortunately, a direct test for FAS does not exist and people cannot give a history of alcohol intake during pregnancy. However, pediatric providers can diagnose this condition based on the child’s size, specific physical symptoms, and others. Check below some examples:

  • History of alcohol use by a female during pregnancy
  • Abnormal facial characteristics
  • Small size at birth
  • Behavioral and emotional problems (including trouble paying attention, hyperactivity, poor judgment)

Furthermore, FAS symptoms can be similar to other conditions. For example:

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Williams syndrome
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Healthcare providers need a full history of alcohol use during pregnancy to prescribe better treatment for your child’s future.

Treatment

FAS is not curable but early treatment of the symptoms can lessen the severity and improve a child’s development. Check below some treatment options:

  • Medicines to decrease symptoms such as behavior and attention problems
  • Education therapy – Used for emotional and learning concerns
  • Parental training

Moreover, parents can learn several rules and routines that will help their child face different situations. Commonly, a stable and supportive home can help to avoid mental and emotional problems. Check below some examples of how to decrease the impact of FAS on a child:

  • If FAS were diagnosed before 6 years old
  • Stable home environment during school years
  • A child’s life is without violence
  • Special education and social services

Consult with your healthcare professional for more details.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is fetal alcohol syndrome a curable health condition?

Unfortunately, FAS cannot be cured but treatment can help to reduce the symptoms. Discuss with your doctor if you suspect your child has FAS.

Does FAS last into adulthood?

This condition never goes away. The symptoms will be with an individual the whole life. However, over time a person may experience secondary symptoms. These are not a part of FAS but occur due to this condition. For example:

  • Mental health problems
  • Trouble in school or with law
  • Substance abuse
  • Someone may act in sexually inappropriate ways
  • Unemployment or problems with keeping a job

Is it possible to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome?

Yes, but the only method to prevent FAS is to avoid alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. Furthermore, if you consumed alcohol at the beginning of the pregnancy, it is not too late to stop. Interrupting the use of alcohol you can prevent this health condition.

Additionally, you should also pay attention to when you drink alcohol after delivery because it may pass through breast milk to the baby. Generally, you should wait at least two hours after having one drink before nursing the baby or pumping milk.

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