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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of physical and mental defects that can develop in a fetus in association with high levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: Wikipedia)

About the Effect of Alcohol on the Fetus

Alcohol can disrupt fetal development at any stage during a pregnancy — including at the earliest stages and before a woman knows she is pregnant. Research shows that binge drinking, which means consuming four or more drinks per occasion, and regular heavy drinking put a fetus at the greatest risk for severe problems.

Drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage, leading to a range of developmental, cognitive, and behavioral problems, which can appear at any time during childhood. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is the umbrella term for the different diagnoses, which include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, and Alcohol-related birth defects.

People with FASD often have difficulty in the following areas:

  • Coordination
  • Emotional control
  • School work
  • Socialization
  • Holding a job

In addition, they often make bad decisions, repeat the same mistakes, trust the wrong people, and do not understand the consequences of their actions. NIH - National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) -- Conditions and Interventions [Internet]

Conclusions FASD is a controversial term referring to several conditions, characterized by a spectrum of symptoms ranging from physical birth defects to neurodevelopmental disorders, which may be caused by the expectant mother consuming alcohol during pregnancy. FASD is not an accepted medical diagnosis in Sweden. However, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is one of several conditions classified as FASD, is a valid medical diagnosis. FAS is characterized by a complex combination of physical, psychological and cognitive anomalies.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: A Review of Diagnostic Test Accuracy, Clinical and Cost-Effectiveness of Diagnosis and Treatment, and Guidelines [Internet]

The purpose of this report is to examine the diagnostic test accuracy, clinical utility, and cost-effectiveness of diagnosis and/or assessment of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), the clinical and costeffectiveness of treatment of FASD, and the evidence-based guidelines associated with diagnosis, assessment, or treatment of FASD in individuals of any age.

Hypertension in Pregnancy: The Management of Hypertensive Disorders During Pregnancy

This clinical guideline concerns the management of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy and their complications from preconception to the postnatal period. For the purpose of this guideline, ‘pregnancy’ includes the antenatal, intrapartum and postpartum (6 weeks after birth) periods. The guideline has been developed with the aim of providing guidance in the following areas: information and advice for women who have chronic hypertension and are pregnant or planning to become pregnant; information and advice for women who are pregnant and at increased risk of developing hypertensive disorders of pregnancy; management of pregnancy with chronic hypertension; management of pregnancy in women with gestational hypertension; management of pregnancy for women with pre-eclampsia before admission to critical care level 2 setting; management of pre-eclampsia and its complications in a critical care setting; information, advice and support for women and healthcare professionals after discharge to primary care following a pregnancy complicated by hypertension; care of the fetus during pregnancy complicated by a hypertensive disorder.

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Summaries for consumers

Psychosocial interventions for women enrolled in alcohol treatment during pregnancy

Pregnancy can be seen as a window of opportunity where women may seek treatment for their addictions out of concern for their unborn child. Worldwide estimates of alcohol usage report that a large proportion of women continue to drink during their pregnancy. Light alcohol consumption has not been associated with adverse effects on a woman's baby, while excessive consumption of alcohol has been shown to cause a number of birth defects as well as foetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the most widely recognized cause of severe mental and developmental delay in the baby. Therefore pregnancy is an important point in time to treat women for their alcohol dependence. This review sought to find all trials which compared any psychosocial intervention to other treatment or no treatment for pregnant or postpartum women in alcohol treatment. No articles were found which fit our inclusion criteria; most trials assessed psychosocial interventions to reduce alcohol consumption in pregnant or reproductive age women, not pregnant or post‐partum women in alcohol treatment. We defined alcohol treatment as when the authors stated the women were in alcohol treatment or any validated psychosocial intervention for the treatment of alcohol dependence. Control trials need to be performed on this population of women to determine the most effective therapy for pregnant women seeking treatment for their alcohol dependence.

Pharmacologic interventions for pregnant women enrolled in alcohol treatment programs

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is common. Yet no safe level of alcohol consumption is known, with no conclusive evidence on any adverse effects on the unborn child with low levels of alcohol. During pregnancy, more than two units per day or more than four units per drinking session may increase the risk of miscarriage, reduce growth, and impair mental development of the baby. Foetal alcohol syndrome is evident as neurological abnormalities, mental retardation, varying degrees of psychosocial and behavioural problems and characteristic facial dysmorphology that are apparent in adolescents and adults. In some populations alcohol use during pregnancy leads to increased child abuse and neglect or compromised mother‐infant attachment and responsiveness. Mothers who consume alcohol are more likely to have post‐natal depression and are less likely to attend health facilities for education and medical treatment.

Ethanol (alcohol) for preventing preterm birth

Preterm birth is when a baby is born at less than 37 weeks' gestation. These babies are generally more ill and are less likely to survive than babies born at term. Preterm babies are also more likely to have some disability, and the earlier the baby is born the more likely they are to have problems. Even short‐term postponement of preterm birth can improve outcomes for babies, as this gives time for the mother to be given a steroid injection to help develop the baby's lungs prior to birth. Short‐term postponement of preterm birth may also give the chance to transfer the mother, if required, to somewhere where there is more expert care for the baby available.

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More about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Photo of a pregnant woman

Also called: Foetal alcohol syndrome, FAS

Other terms to know:
Fetus, Neurodevelopmental Disorder

Keep up with systematic reviews on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:

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