What Are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) are conditions that encompass the cognitive, physical, and behavioral disorders resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure. These disorders can have substantial adverse effects on both the quality of life and lifespan of a child.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in every 1,000 babies born in the US has a FASD. However, the actual number is suspected to be higher, as FASDs can be hard to diagnose due to under-reporting of alcohol use by pregnant people and the chance of some symptoms presenting later in adolescence.

Children born with FASDs can have a mix of serious physical, behavioral, social, and learning problems. The specific problems they experience and the severity of them depends on which type of FASD they have.

These problems can include:

  • Small head size
  • Low body weight
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Learning disabilities

  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep and latching problems as a baby
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones

Types Of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

There are four classifications of FASDs, which include fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

FAS is the most severe FASD which can cause fetal death. For children born with FAS, the effects include:

  • Developmental disability
  • Malformations of the skeletal system and major organ systems
  • Inhibited growth
  • Central nervous system complications
  • Difficulty with learning, memory, social interaction, and problem solving
  • Abnormal facial features, often a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip 

Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

pFAS refers to children who have two of the physical characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome. They also can experience delayed or inhibited growth and some of the same developmental, learning, and mental problems.

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder

People with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder tend to have the developmental and behavioral disabilities that are common of FASDs. However, they can be particularly hard to diagnose, as they do not always present with the same or common physical markers.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects

People with alcohol-related birth defects have fewer but still significant physical defects often affecting their heart and kidneys, skeletal system, and auditory function.

Testing And Treatment For FASDs

There are no specific medical tests to diagnose FASDs. Health care providers make a diagnosis through physical examination, reviewing a child’s signs and symptoms, and exploring the extent to which alcohol was used during pregnancy.

While there is no cure for the life-long effects of FASDs, there are treatments and programs that can help improve an affected child’s quality of life and ability to function.

Cognitive And Behavioral Therapy

Children with FASDs may benefit from special education programs and various social services. Early intervention and tutoring programs can help a child improve their cognitive function and learning abilities. Likewise, behavioral and speech therapy focus on improving a child’s behavior and speech ability, helping to close the gap of learning deficiencies created by FASD.

Medical Intervention

Medical interventions for FASDs are limited but should be administered as soon as possible to have the greatest effects.

A newborn suspected of having a FASD will often receive special care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to help treat any urgent medical needs, often caused by alcohol withdrawal, they might be facing upon birth.

Though medical needs vary, stimulant, antidepressant, and anti-anxiety medications are often prescribed to children with FASDs to help improve attention deficits or hyperactive behaviors that present as they age.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders Are Preventable

FASDs and their life-long physical and mental effects can be prevented by the cessation of alcohol use before and during pregnancy.

If you are pregnant and struggle with an addiction to alcohol it is essential that you seek professional treatment as soon as possible. Contact a treatment provider today to see what options are available to you.