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Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Complications And Treatment

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a severe form of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) which occurs in children, due to alcohol exposure during the period of pregnancy [1] .

It causes brain damage and growth problems in the child and can vary from one child to the other. FAS can affect the child's vision, hearing, memory, attention span, and abilities to learn and communicate. The damages are mostly permanent, however, are avoidable [2] .

Symptoms Of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

The signs can vary from one child to the other, that is, while it may be severe for one, it can be mild in another. The symptoms of FAS can be intellectual or cognitive disabilities, physical defects and lack everyday-skills [3] .

The physical defects include:

  • hearing problems,
  • vision difficulties,
  • small head circumference and brain size,
  • deformities of joints, limbs and fingers,
  • distinctive facial features such as small eyes, thin upper lip, a short, upturned nose and
  • smooth skin surface between the upper lip and the nose.

Nervous problems include [4] :

  • poor memory,
  • poor coordination or balance,
  • intellectual disability, learning disorders and delayed development,
  • trouble being attentive,
  • trouble with processing information,
  • difficulty with reasoning and problem-solving,
  • poor judgement skills,
  • hyperactivity,
  • rapidly changing moods and
  • difficulty identifying the consequences of actions.

Social and behavioural issues include [5] :

  • difficulty in school,
  • poor social skills,
  • difficulty planning or working toward a goal,
  • trouble adapting to change or switching from one task to another,
  • problems with behaviour and impulse control,
  • problems staying on task,
  • trouble getting along with others and
  • poor concept of time.

Causes Of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

The primary and only cause of FAS is alcohol consumption during pregnancy. When you consume alcohol during your pregnancy period, the alcohol enters your bloodstream and reaches the foetus by crossing the placenta.


This can result in the development of higher blood alcohol concentrations in your developing baby, as well as interfere with the delivery of oxygen and optimal nutrition [6] [7] .

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy also affects the development of tissues and organs and cause permanent brain damage in the baby.

Complications Of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

Some of the problems that can arise once the child grows up are mentioned below[8] .

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Aggression
  • Inappropriate social conduct
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • Rebellious behaviour
  • Mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders
  • Problems with independent living and with employment
  • Problems staying in or completing school
  • Early death (by accident, homicide or suicide)

Diagnosis Of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

If you think your child may have FAS, go to the doctor immediately. The doctor will have to be informed about your drinking habits, if any, during the pregnancy period [9] .

A physical examination of your baby will be carried out. The doctor will check for symptoms such as slow rate of growth, abnormal facial features or bone growth, hearing and vision problems, slow language acquisition (as the baby matures), small head size and poor coordination.

Treatment For Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

The mental and physical defects will persist for a long time and as of now, there is no cure for foetal alcohol syndrome [10] .

Depending on the symptoms the child exhibits, the doctor may direct for specialist visits. Early intervention is the best way to reduce some of the effects of the condition and prevent secondary disabilities.

The intervention process will be comprised of a team with a special education teacher, a speech therapist, physical and occupational therapists, and a psychologist.

Medications for managing the symptom are also prescribed. Apart from these, medical care for vision problems or heart abnormalities is provided [11] .

Then, counselling such as behavioural training is an effective way of improving the social skills of the child.

On A Final Note...

The most preferable way to prevent the condition is by stopping the drinking habit, especially during pregnancy. Not just during pregnancy but also avoid it if you're trying to get pregnant and consider giving up alcohol during your childbearing years. And if you an alcohol problem and wish to get pregnant, get help from a doctor.

Infographics by Sharan Jayanth

View Article References
  1. [1] Adebiyi, B. O., Mukumbang, F. C., Cloete, L. G., & Beytell, A. M. (2018). Exploring service providers’ perspectives on the prevention and management of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in South Africa: a qualitative study. BMC public health, 18(1), 1238.
  2. [2] Lu, A., & Johnson, K. (2019). The UK and Ireland incidence of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): a new study. Advances in Dual Diagnosis, 12(1/2), 99-102.
  3. [3] Andreu-Fernández, V., Bastons-Compta, A., Navarro-Tapia, E., Sailer, S., & Garcia-Algar, O. (2019). Serum concentrations of IGF-I/IGF-II as biomarkers of alcohol damage during foetal development and diagnostic markers of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1562.
  4. [4] Brown, J. M., Bland, R., Jonsson, E., & Greenshaw, A. J. (2019). The standardization of diagnostic criteria for fetal alcohol Spectrum disorder (FASD): implications for research, clinical practice and population health. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 64(3), 169-176.
  5. [5] Nowak, A., & Michno, A. (2019). FASD–Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. World Scientific News, 129, 242-254.
  6. [6] Flannigan, K., Pei, J., Stewart, M., & Johnson, A. (2018). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and the criminal justice system: a systematic literature review. Int J Law Psychiatry, 57, 42-52.
  7. [7] Nulman, I., Shulman, T., & Liu, F. (2018). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. In Handbook of Developmental Neurotoxicology (pp. 427-437). Academic Press.
  8. [8] Wozniak, J. R., Riley, E. P., & Charness, M. E. (2019). Clinical presentation, diagnosis, and management of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The Lancet Neurology.
  9. [9] Gonzalez, B. J., Marret, S., Lecuyer, M. J. A., Laquerriere, A., Bekri, S., Lesueur, C., ... & Marcorelles, P. Y. J. (2018). U.S. Patent Application No. 15/738,922.
  10. [10] Aiton, N., Huang, R., Fernandez, R., Mills, M., & Suttie, M. (2019). G195 Novel techniques for the analysis of face-brain morphology in babies and adolescents with prenatal alcohol exposure (PNAE).
  11. [11] Howlett, H., Mackenzie, S., Strehle, E. M., Rankin, J., & Gray, W. K. (2019). A Survey of Health Care Professionals’ Knowledge and Experience of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Alcohol Use in Pregnancy. Clinical Medicine Insights: Reproductive Health, 13, 1179558119838872.
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