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Pregnancy

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP, Board Certified Pediatrician
January 3, 2019 . 2 min read

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe the devastating effects that alcohol consumption can have on a baby in utero. This term includes several related conditions, resulting in physical, behavioral, and learning problems.

While it is difficult to determine the number of babies affected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 8,000 babies a year are born with full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome, while three times that many may suffer from less severe alcohol effects that would fall under the diagnosis of FASD.

FASD diagnoses include:

FAS. This describes children with the most severe alcohol effects. The diagnosis includes physical characteristics including a smooth thin upper lip, small eye openings, flattened mid-face, growth problems, and nervous system abnormalities.

pFAS. These children do not meet all of the classic findings of FAS but have a history of alcohol exposure in utero. They may have some features of FAS but are typically not as severe.

ARND. These children typically have intellectual disabilities, learning impairments, behavior problems, and nerve/brain abnormalities but do not have the classic physical features of FAS.

ARBD. Children with ARBD suffer from specific birth defects due to alcohol, including defects in the heart, kidneys, or bones. They also can have hearing or vision impairment.

Children who suffer from FASD show classic neurodevelopmental signs, even if the physical features are not present. They may have global delays, attention problems, difficulty with executive functioning/problem solving, as well as motor and visual-spatial functioning. These children will also have social skills problems, including impaired communications and a lack of socially appropriate interactions and behavior, often leading to fewer friendships. Other issues include sensory problems, language deficits, and memory problems.

There is no safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy. In fact, the Institute of Medicine says that of all substances of abuse (including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana), alcohol produces, by far, the most serious neurobehavioral problems. The best way to prevent FASD is to completely avoid alcohol while pregnant and while planning a pregnancy.

Sources:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
    American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome FAQ.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
    National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
    Institute of Medicine
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment.

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