Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Like any syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a group of signs and
symptoms that appear together and indicate a certain condition. In the case of
FAS, the signs and symptoms are birth defects that result from a woman's use of
alcohol during her pregnancy. Among their symptoms, children with FAS may grow
less quickly than other children, have facial abnormalities and have problems
with their central nervous systems, including mental retardation.
In the United States, FAS is one of the leading causes of birth defects and
is thought to be the most common cause of preventable mental retardation. Each
year between 5,000 and 12,000 American babies are born with the condition. FAS
is sometimes called fetal alcohol abuse syndrome.
Usually, FAS is diagnosed only when a child has the following major clinical
manifestations, or signs:
- Growth retardation
- Characteristic facial features, such as:
- Small eyes with drooping upper lids
- Short, upturned nose
- Flattened cheeks
- Small jaw
- Thin upper lip
- Flattened philtrum (the groove in the middle of the upper lip)
- Central nervous system problems, including:
- Mental retardation
- Delayed development of gross motor skills such as rolling over, sitting up,
crawling and walking
- Delayed development of fine motor skills such as grasping objects with the
thumb and index finger, and transferring objects from one hand to the
- Impaired language development
- Memory problems, poor judgement, distractibility, impulsiveness
- Problems with learning
However, children affected by FAS may have any or all of the signs and
symptoms listed above, along with the following:
- Decreased birth weight
- Small skull
- Hearing disorders
Studies have shown that the more severe the physical characteristics of FAS
are in a child, the more severe his or her mental impairment tends to be.
Children born with FAS may develop secondary conditions as a result of their
syndrome. These secondary conditions can include the following:
- Mental health problems such as attention deficit disorder, conduct
disorder, depression and psychotic episodes.
- Problems in school, including higher rates of suspension and expulsion due
to difficulty getting along with others, disobedience and truancy.
- Trouble with the law. Those born with FAS may have problems controlling
anger and frustration, and problems understanding the motives of others. This
may lead to violent behavior. As a result, teenagers and adults with FAS are
more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than their peers
are. Also, those with FAS can be especially susceptible to persuasion and
manipulation, which may lead to unwitting involvement in illegal
- Drug and alcohol abuse. More than one-third of those with FAS have problems
which require inpatient treatment for drugs and/or alcohol abuse at some time
in their lives.
- Difficulty holding a job and living independently.