Fetal Alcohol Syndrome



FetalAlcohol Syndrome

FetalAlcohol Syndrome

FetalAlcohol Syndrome refers to a group of conditions in children andadults that are as a result of consumption of alcohol by the motherduring pregnancy resulting into prenatal exposure. There are manyproblems that constitute which includesabnormal appearance and poor physical and mental development.Children affected by these conditions have lower intelligence, poorcoordination and behavioral problems. As a result, they are morelikely to engage in risky and illegal activities such as crime, drugabuse, violence and risky sexual behaviors (Riley, 2011). Drinkingalcohol among women is a common phenomenon among mothers in themodern society. Surveys suggest that one out of ten mothers takesalcohol in the last month of their pregnancy while up to thirtypercent of mothers have consumed alcohol during pregnancy.Additionally, about four percent of pregnant mothers have alcoholaddiction or alcohol use disorder. The risk of is increased by other factors such as the age of the mother,nutrition and use of other drugs such as tobacco. Although someexperts have argued that small amount of alcohol is safe, the safeamount of alcohol and safe time for pregnant mother is not known(Abel, 2008).

Effectsof alcohol on fetus

Unbornbabies are nourished from the bloodstream of the mother. Thus, when amother drinks alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream, whichpasses through the placenta to fetus circulation system. Usually,alcohol in human body is detoxified in the liver. Unfortunately,liver is among the last organ to fully develop in an unborn baby. Itis developed in the last trimester of pregnancy. This means that thefetus is unable to process the alcohol in the same way a mature humandoes (Abel, 2008). Since high concentration of alcohol is toxic tobody tissues, it has significant impacts on the development ofcritical organs in the unborn baby, mainly the spinal cord and brain.This is because alcohol has the potential of damaging essential cellsin growth and development. It also affects the nerves connections tothe brain. This results into poor or delayed growth and development.There is a general consensus that the first trimester is verycritical for health development of the unborn baby. Therefore,alcohol is probably more harmful during the first weeks of pregnancy.It is however important to note that any harm to the fetus at thisstage may result into miscarriage. Additionally, alcohol is harmfulto the unborn baby at any stage. The extent of the harm is largelyaffected by the amount of alcohol consumed (Abel, 2008).

Signsand symptoms

Keysigns and symptoms among individuals expose to alcohol before birthvary from one individual to another. However, there are consensuseson the signs and symptoms that can be used to diagnose Fetal AlcoholSyndrome. One of the major sign and symptom that relate to prenatalexposure to alcohol involves physical development of the individualafter birth. Majority of individuals suffering from Fetal AlcoholSyndrome is growth deficiency characterized by below average weightand height. Although this characteristic is best measured at birth,it can be assessed at any age and the measurement should be adjustedto accommodate other factors such as inherited characteristics,postnatal insults and gestational age (Riley, 2011). Another majorsigns that are used in the diagnosis of arecraniofacial abnormalities. Facial abnormalities are often visible inall individuals with . Although there are someexceptions, the presence of craniofacial abnormalities suggests braindamage. Some of the most important facial abnormalities includesmooth philtrum, thin vermilion and small palpebral fissures (Riley,2011).

Themost important aspect of diagnosing involvesan evaluation of the extent of central nervous system damage.Depending on other factors such as genetic predisposition, timing,frequency and the extent of exposure, prenatal exposure to alcoholcan result into gross to subtle impairment of the central nervoussystem. This damage can be assessed in term of neurologicalimpairment, structural impairment or functional impairment.Structural impairment and abnormalities of the brain and the CNS canbe physically observed (Roszel, 2015). For example, damage tostructural structures can be characterized by small size of the head(also referred to microcephaly). This can be determined by the use ofmedical imaging or measurement of the head circumference relative toappropriate growth charts. Neurological impairment can be assessed bya trained physician in cases where the structural impairments are notclear. These impairments are exhibited by disorders that can bemedically diagnosed. Examples include seizure disorders, epilepsy,motor skills disorders and hearing or sign problems. Functionalimpairments include abnormalities that affect the functioning of theCNS. They include cognitive and behavior abnormalities that are notconsistent with developmental stage, cognitive defects, and deviationfrom the standard CNS functioning domains (Roszel, 2015).


Thereare several diagnostic systems that have been developed to assistphysicians in the diagnosis of . They includes“the Institute of Medicine Guidelines for ”,“the University of Washington’s -the 4-digit diagnostic code”, “the centers for diseases control’s guidelines for referral and diagnosis” and “Canadian guidelinesfor diagnosis”. All the diagnosis guidelinesrequire complete evaluation of the individual based on the fourfeatures of . These features include growthdeficiency, facial abnormalities, CNS damage and known or unknownprenatal exposure to alcohol. In many cases, doctors can suspect acase of immediately after birth based on theextent of growth and facial features. The suspected case is morecertain if there is evidence or confession of alcohol use by themother during pregnancy. However, can not beconformed until full diagnosis has been done (Abel, 2008).

Preventionand treatment

FetalAlcohol Syndrome can only be prevented by avoiding alcohol at allstages of pregnancy. The general recommendation is that even womenwho are preparing for pregnancy should avoid alcohol. Due to theconcerns associated with , federal laws in theUnited States require that all alcoholic beverages should warnpregnant mothers in their labels. However, there are controversiesrelated to zero tolerance to alcohol approach due to the fact thatthere is no strong evidence linking moderate drinking to fetal damageas well as social and legal implications (Riley et al, 2011).Although there are several treatment option available, Fetal AlcoholSyndrome can not be cured. The disabilities associated with thecondition vary from one individual to another and thus there is nosingle treatment that can work in all cases. Some of the commontreatment includes psychoactive drugs used in the treatment ofcritical symptoms and behavioral interventions. However, communitybased approaches such as support for both patients and pregnant mothers at risk of alcohol abuse are critical.This should be supported by a public health policy that promotes theprevention of (Riley et al, 2011).


Abel,E. (2008). FetalAlcohol Abuse Syndrome,Boston, MA: Springer US.

Riley,E. et al (2011). FetalAlcohol Spectrum Disorder Management and Policy Perspectives of FASD,Weinheim Wiley-VCH.

Riley,E., Infante, M., Warren, K. (2011). &quotFetal alcohol spectrumdisorders: an overview.” Neuropsychologyreview21 (2): 73–80.

Roszel,E. (2015). &quotCentral nervous system deficits in fetal alcoholspectrum disorder.&quot TheNurse practitioner40 (4): 24–33.