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Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS): symptoms, causes and treatment

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS): symptoms, causes and treatment

March 1, 2021

A healthy lifestyle of the mother throughout pregnancy is essential to ensure the correct development of the fetus and a good quality of the baby's health. Therefore, certain toxic habits such as alcohol and tobacco can cause serious complications in the growth of the child.

In the case of alcoholic habits or behavior, consumption of these types of beverages can have serious consequences such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) . Throughout this article, we will discuss the characteristics and symptoms of this, as well as its diagnosis and possible treatment.

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What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition that is categorized within the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (TEAF) . This spectrum refers to a group of diseases or conditions that can appear in those cases in which the mother consumed certain amounts of alcohol during pregnancy, causing a series of physical and mental consequences in the baby.


These disorders are characterized by presenting a series of physical, mental, behavioral and cognitive abnormalities in those babies who suffer , since the alcohol consumed by the mother is transferred to the child's bloodstream.

In the specific case of the fetal alcohol syndrome, it is considered the most serious or harmful affection within the spectrum of alterations or anomalies caused by alcohol exposure during the fetal development stage, without taking into account the fetal death itself. for alcoholism.

Babies diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome usually present a series of pathological physical features such as deformation of facial features , alterations in growth or problems in the development of the central nervous system.


These irregularities in the process of fetal growth have as main psychological consequence the appearance of difficulties in learning and alterations in the processes of memory, communication ability, attention, as well as visual or auditory sensory difficulties. Alterations also pose a risk of social exclusion for these children, since school and integration problems are usually common.

Regarding the incidence of this syndrome, the exposure of the fetus to certain levels of alcohol is the main cause of intellectual functional diversity in developed countries , well above genetic alterations.

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What symptoms does it present?

As described above, fetal alcohol syndrome is characterized by a series of physical or visible symptoms, such as organic or related to the baby's neurological development .


The clinical picture of SAF is classified into three groups of different symptoms. Those related to craniofacial anomalies, alterations in the central nervous system and a delay in the general development.

1. Craniofacial anomalies

There are a number of characteristic physical features that distinguish children with a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome. These are:

  • Flat nasal filter or crushing of the space between the nose and the upper lip.
  • Narrowing of the upper lip.
  • Decrease in the size of the palpebral fissures u abnormally small eyes .

2. Alterations of the central nervous system

The problems or anomalies in the development of the central nervous system can manifest themselves in different degrees, depending on the amount of alcohol to which the fetus has been exposed. These damages can be divided into three different planes:

  • Alterations in the formation of the anatomical structure , usually expressed in the form of microcephaly or irregularities in the formation of different brain areas.
  • Pathologies associated with neurological functioning such as seizures and spasms, coordination problems or sensory difficulties such as visual and auditory difficulties.
  • Alterations of intellectual functioning manifested in the form of behavioral disorders, problems of self-control, attention problems and hyperactivity, intellectual functional diversity, lack of social skills, memory problems, etc.

3. Delay in the generalized development

It manifests in the form of pathologies related to the weight and height of the baby. Which have to be below the average of children born healthy.

What causes does it have?

The main and only cause of fetal alcohol syndrome is found in the consumption of alcohol by the mother throughout pregnancy. The alcohol present in the drinks can pass into the bloodstream of the fetus through the placenta, causing all kinds of interferences and alterations in the development of this.

Although it has not yet been possible to establish in a reliable way from what level of consumption the first symptoms appear, it has been determined that the more alcohol consumed by the mother, the greater the number of symptoms, and the more serious it will cause in the baby .

In the same way, the stage of pregnancy in which it occurs in consumption is also decisive , since consuming alcoholic beverages during the first trimester is even more dangerous than doing it at any other stage.

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How can it be diagnosed?

In those cases in which the medical professional suspects that there may be the possibility of a fetal alcohol syndrome, there are a series of tests that can be carried out to confirm the diagnosis :

  • Evaluation of the state of the heart that reveals a cardiac anomaly.
  • Tests of the blood alcohol levels of the mother, as long as it shows signs of intoxication.
  • Neuroimaging tests such as tomography or magnetic resonance imaging after the birth of the baby.
  • Ultrasound tests during pregnancy .

Is there a treatment?

Because the lesions caused in the baby are permanent and irreversible, it has not been possible to develop a treatment with the ability to reverse these symptoms. However, the prognosis or intensity of treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms.

As a consequence, the intervention protocol is usually confined to the treatment of those cognitive symptoms such as lack of attention or special educational needs, in order to facilitate the school and social adjustment of the child and, as a consequence, to improve as much as possible its quality of life. lifetime.


FASD: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (March 2021).


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