Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are risk factors for fetal alcohol syndrome?

The Surgeon General and the Secretary for Health and Human Services recommend total abstinence from alcohol for women planning pregnancy, at the time of conception and throughout the entire pregnancy. No safe level of prenatal alcohol consumption has been documented. Multiple other countries have established similar guidelines.

Other risk factors include the following:

  1. Binge drinking (four or more drinks in one sitting) is more problematic than consumption of the same amount of alcohol spread out over time (such as four back-to-back drinks at one sitting vs. one drink per day for four days).
  2. Older maternal age (over 35 years old)
  3. African-American or Native-American ethnic groups and a listing of many varied background elements (lower socioeconomic status, smoking, unmarried, unemployed, use of illicit drugs, maternal history of sexual or physical abuse, history of incarceration, having a partner or family member who drinks heavily and experiencing psychological stress or having a mental-health disorder)

What are symptoms and signs of fetal alcohol syndrome?

Infants with the diagnostic criteria to establish fetal alcohol syndrome exhibit the following characteristic findings:

  1. Unique facial characteristics: a thin upper lip; a uniquely smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose (the "philtrum"); and a smaller than normal space between the upper and lower eyelids ("palpebral fissure")
  2. Growth delay: smaller than expected length, weight, and head circumference measurements during both intrauterine and post-birth growth
  3. Central nervous system abnormalities: (a) structural (small brain size and slower than expected growth); (b) functional (global developmental delay in motor skills, language acquisition and utilization, problems with attention/hyperactivity, social skill deficiencies, etc.)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2015
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