Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

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Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) facts

  • Combined 2011 to 2012 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that 8.5 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 drank alcohol in the past month. Also, 2.7 percent binge drank. Among women aged 15 to 44 who were not pregnant, 55.5 percent drank alcohol in the past month, and 24.7 percent binge drank. Most alcohol use by pregnant women occurred during the first trimester. Alcohol use was lower during the second and third trimesters than during the first (4.2 and 3.7 percent vs. 17.9 percent). These findings suggest that many pregnant women are getting the message and not drinking alcohol.
  • Infants of mothers who drank during pregnancy may experience a spectrum of consequences that range from "fetal alcohol effects" (FAE), alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD), and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Fetal alcohol syndrome is regarded as the most severe.
  • Some children sustain no obvious side effects of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

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To establish the diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome, specific criteria must be met. These include (1) documentation of three characteristic facial abnormalities, (2) documentation of smaller than expected prenatal and/or postnatal length, weight, and head circumference growth parameters, and (3) documentation of central nervous system abnormalities. These criteria will be further described later in this article.

What causes fetal alcohol syndrome?

Alcohol is rapidly transported via placental blood flow from mother to fetus and is known to cause miscarriage and birth defects. Within two hours of maternal ingestion, fetal alcohol blood levels are similar to maternal alcohol blood levels. There is no established relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed and side effects sustained by the infant. This puzzling observation may reflect the maternal rate of alcohol breakdown via her liver.

It has been observed that alcohol consumed at any time during pregnancy may be associated with severe and permanent consequences. First trimester pregnancy alcohol ingestion is linked to the characteristic facial abnormalities of FAS as well as a reduction of intrauterine growth rate. Alcohol consumption during the second trimester also contributes to lower IQ, growth retardation in length and birth weight, as well as cognitive deficits of reading, spelling, and math. Third trimester alcohol consumption amplifies retardation in birth length and ultimate adult height potential.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2015

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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Treatment for Children

Behavior and Education Therapy

Behavior and education therapy can be an important part of treatment for children with FASDs. Although there are many different types of therapy for children with developmental disabilities, only a few have been scientifically tested specifically for children with FASDs.

Following are behavior and education therapies that have been shown to be effective for some children with FASDs:

  • Friendship training
    Many children with FASDs have a hard time making friends, keeping friends, and socializing with others. Friendship training teaches children with FASDs how to interact with friends, how to enter a group of children already playing, how to arrange and handle in-home play dates, and how to avoid and work out conflicts. A research study found that this type of training could significantly improve children's social skills and reduce problem behaviors.
  • Specialized math tutoring
    A research study found that special teaching methods and tools can help improve math knowledge and skills in children with FASDs.
  • Executive functioning training
    This type of training teaches behavioral awareness and self-control and improves executive functioning skills, such as memory, cause and effect, reasoning, planning, and problem solving.
  • Parent-child interaction therapy
    This type of therapy aims to improve parent-child relationships, create a positive discipline program, and reduce behavior problems in children with FASDs. Parents learn new skills from a coach. A research study found significant decrease in parent distress and child behavior problems.
  • Parenting and behavior management training
    The behavior and learning problems that affect children with FASDs can lead to high levels of stress for the children's parents. This training can improve caregiver comfort, meet family needs, and reduce child problem behaviors.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention