Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome, abbreviated as FAS, is a condition that occurs to the fetus due to alcohol intake during pregnancy. There are significant problems that may affect the fetus; these may include mental retardation, learning issues, ocular issues, physical deformities and behavioral issues. The issues caused due to this syndrome may vary but unfortunately the defects caused by the condition cannot be reversed. Many women ask about safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy to avoid FAS. However, there is no such safe amount of alcohol that can have no influence on your fetus. If you consume even slightest amount of alcohol then your baby is at risk of developing the syndrome. If you doubt that your child may have this syndrome then consult your doctor immediately as it may help in reducing complications of the condition. 

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Causes

Alcohol when consumed during pregnancy can cross the placenta and reach your developing fetus through your bloodstreams. Fetus cannot metabolize alcohol as fast as adults can do; this is why alcohol concentration of your baby is higher as compared with rest of your body. Alcohol can also hinder the delivery of oxygen to the baby. It can also affect the nutrition supply to your unborn child’s developing tissues as well as organs such as brain. The higher is your alcohol consumption during pregnancy the greater is the risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome affecting your child. There is no period during pregnancy when it is safe to consume alcohol; the risk is present throughout the pregnancy.  However, it is believed that facial features, bones, nervous system and other organ may get affected due to consuming alcohol during the first trimester. This is the phase wherein these parts of the fetus are under development. Hence, it is essential to give-up alcohol if you suspect that you are pregnant as during the first few weeks of first trimester most women are not even aware of the pregnancy. 

Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome does not include only one birth defect; in fact it refers to group of associated problems. It is the most serious condition amongst prenatal alcohol exposure related consequences. The range of disorders is collectively referred to as FASDs or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Fetal alcohol syndrome is said to be a common cause of mental backwardness but it can be certainly prevented. The degree of mental severity may greatly vary with some children may have mild issues while others may have severe psychological problems. Some common symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may include: 

  • Unusual facial feature such as small eye, thinner upper lips, upturned nose, smooth skin between upper lips and nose etc
  • Joint deformities, deformed fingers and limbs
  • Delayed physical growth during pregnancy and after birth
  • Ocular issues
  • Hearing difficulties
  • Small brain size called microcephaly
  • Smaller circumference of head
  • Improper coordination
  • Delayed mental growth or retardation
  • Learning disorder
  • Heart defects

Some children with FAS may have distinct abnormal behavior. They may have shorter span of attention or may be hyperactive. Such children may be extremely nervous, have improper impulse control and may suffer from anxiety. The aforementioned issues associated with facial feature of FAS affected child may also occur in normal children. It needs expertise to distinguish normal facial features from that of a FAS affected child’s. Neurodevelopment disorder associated with alcohol is a term used to refer to mental impairment or behavioral anomalies which are often caused when fetus is exposed to alcohol. 

Experts cannot actually tell how much alcohol can be permitted for consumption during pregnancy without affecting your child. However, what they certainly know is, the more you drink the higher are the chances of your child becoming affected with the condition. In other words, even slightest consumption would make your child susceptible to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Doctors suggest ceasing use of alcohol if you suspect you are pregnant of even if you are attempting to become pregnant. If you are addicted to alcohol and you cannot stop drinking but wants your child to be safe, then consult a doctor immediately and seek medical help. 

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Diagnosis

Doctor cannot diagnose Fetal Alcohol Syndrome before your baby is delivered. However they can evaluate mother’s health and health of the fetus during pregnancy. By providing timing and quantity of alcohol consumption to an obstetrician or other doctors, you will enable them to detect the risk of FAS.  After pregnancy if you inform your doctor that you consumed alcohol during pregnancy, then the doctor can track the symptoms of the condition during initial months and years of your child’s life. There are certain areas on which the doctor will focus on to determine whether your child is affected with Fetal Alcohol syndrome; these are as follows: 

  • Growth
  • Facial development
  • Heart
  • Hearing ability
  • Sight
  • Language development
  • Behavior
  • Cognitive ability
  • Motor skills 

If any anomalies are suspected the doctor may refer your child to genetic specialist to confirm whether your child is a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome victim. If one child is diagnosed positive with the condition, it is significant to also diagnose his/her siblings and check whether they are also affected with the condition. 

Treatment

There is no treatment that can completely cure the syndrome. Physical deformities and mental issue often lasts for the lifetime. In case of heart related problems, surgery can be an option in some cases. However, other techniques can be adopted to reduce the daily living difficulties of your child. For example, learning problem can be reduced with help of special schools meant for such children. Counseling can help parents to care for their child and deal with its behavioral issues.  

It is better to prevent the condition from affecting your child then to struggle later. The only confirmed way to protect your child from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is by giving up alcohol completely before pregnancy. It is better to quit alcohol during your child bearing years and particularly when you are planning to have a child. You should not relapse from your practice of avoiding alcohol during your pregnancy and when your child is breast feeding. Giving up alcohol completely before and during pregnancy can certainly prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Pictures

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