Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and its serious consequences

Basil Manning

When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, the child she is carrying does too, it passes through the umbilical cord. The cost of drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be very high as the consequences can be irreversible. It is estimated that one in ten women consumes ethanol during pregnancy, 20% of them drink four alcoholic beverages or more on each occasion.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is common in many countries, so fetal alcohol syndrome is relatively prevalent and the population with APS is significant worldwide; therefore, it is a public health issue as well. It should be mentioned that not all pregnant women who drink alcohol have a child who suffers from the syndrome, each woman drinks different amounts of alcohol and both they and their unborn children have different capacities to metabolize ethanol, it must be considered that they enter into play other factors that may influence your vulnerability.


  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
  • Characterology of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
    • Physical manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome
    • Neurobehavioral manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Protective factors in fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome
    • Links and references

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)

These conditions are the result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The FASD can include physical ailments, problems of the nervous system, behavioral and learning, mainly. They often show a combination of these and can be mild, moderate or severe.

All types of alcohol are harmful, even wines and beers. Drinking ethanol during the first three months of pregnancy is serious for the fetus and multiplies the chances of stillbirth. At this stage, human development is exponential and is directly affected in many ways. Each organism is different, the alterations vary from one person to another, however the damage is permanent.

According to the research carried out by Svetlana Popova et al. (2017), the number of women who consume alcoholic beverages during pregnancy represents 10%, estimates that each year 119 thousand children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome due to consumption. 15 out of 10,000 people around the world suffer from a fetal alcohol disorder (The Lancet Global Health, 2017).

The types of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) include:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
  • Birth problems and alcohol-related disorders.
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • Neurobehavioral disorder associated with alcohol exposure.
  • Partial prenatal fetal alcohol syndrome.

Characterology of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

FAS is the most serious of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). People with APS can have different facial features, growth and nervous system problems, among many others, and can even lead to stillbirth..

To develop fetal alcohol syndrome the mother may have consumed minimal levels of alcohol before the birth of the child, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that more than 13 drinks of alcoholic beverages per month during pregnancy and drink more than 2 drinks on the same occasion, represent a risk factor for the fetus.

Physical manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome

The possible characteristics of patients with fetal alcohol syndrome at a physical level can be: heart problems, kidney defects and abnormalities, having a small head and eyes, central nervous system problems, a soft ridge between the upper lip and the nose, a very thin upper lip or other very particular facial features, having deformed limbs or fingers, impaired bone development, having vision and hearing problems and generally tend to be below average normal weight.

Neurobehavioral manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome

Some problems that may present are: poor attention span, difficulty in redirecting it when moving from one task to another, in memory, they tend to forget information they had already learned, in communication skills, language, they tend to present delay in the development and thinking problems. Other manifestations can be: poor judgment, mild, moderate or severe intellectual disabilities, planning problems, attention deficit disorders and disruptive behavior, hyperactivity and they often have low academic performance, requiring psycho-pedagogical support..

Motor coordination can also be affected, they tend to have emotional lability, behavior problems, irritability and poor impulse control, so tantrums are frequent and their social skills are also often impaired. Cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended, orienting parents regarding their child's condition and providing strategies that can be implemented according to their specific needs..

Protective factors in fetal alcohol syndrome

Protective factors help reduce some effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, one of them is early intervention, which serves to prevent secondary disabilities that may manifest and that some patients with APS have been observed to develop, especially in adolescence and adulthood. . Ideally, it should be detected and intervened before 6 years of age.

Another protective factor is that the family also take therapy, this can help to increase understanding, to release feelings of guilt, anger and frustration, it is advisable to try to create an environment of love, understanding and support at home. Family members can seek support groups, led by a health professional, the therapeutic value of sharing experiences with people who go through the same situations can be of great help.

Collaboration with educational centers represents another important protection factor, as well as having the appropriate care networks that are generally made up of neurologists, pediatricians, psychologists and mainly psychopedagogues, comprehensive treatment represents a great contribution for the person to achieve their maximum potential and to improve the quality of life of the patient. Psychologists can help strengthen protective factors, such as social skills, and assist in establishing strategies for lack of emotional regulation, to name a few benefits of receiving assistance..

An investigation carried out in this regard with 415 patients with APS in Spain, showed that 61% of them interrupted their studies, 60% had some conflict with the law, 50% were in jail or a psychiatric hospital, 49 % had inappropriate sexual behaviors and 35% had drug and alcohol use problems (Ismail et al., 2010). People with FAS can be highly influential, which is why they tend to develop some of these conflicts at school, as well as establish inconvenient links for their optimal development.

Diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome

On many occasions, the condition can go unnoticed or can be confused with other problems, since some of those affected only have mild neurological damage without serious difficulties and the characteristic phenotype, so a multidisciplinary evaluation that includes neuropsychological support is necessary to assess and help improve your cognitive and executive functions.

When patients and family adhere to treatments consistently, this can help reduce some symptoms and develop protective factors that will help them in the different stages of their development, so it is essential that it be done early and timely.

It is helpful for the mother to have honest communication regarding ethanol consumption during pregnancy, which is also sometimes a problem as there may be feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, anger, and fear of being judged. It is necessary that this is transcended and that there is acceptance of the child's condition, many mothers live in denial, because reality can suppose great emotional suffering, while the effects of the condition are increasing in their little ones without a mark behind..

Another challenge is that many women do not realize that they are pregnant, until the fourth or sixth week of pregnancy, it is estimated that half of pregnancies in developed countries are unplanned and more than 80% in developing countries . If a pregnant woman consumes alcohol regularly or once a week, it could have caused irreversible damage to the fetus, the effects are manifested in different ways in the organisms, so the only safe consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is zero consumption.

It may interest you: Denial, a destructive type of defense mechanism

Prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome

Since it is a public health problem, it is necessary to raise awareness about this, since the only way to prevent APS and its consequences is through the zero consumption of ethanol during pregnancy. Women who wish to get pregnant should ideally prepare their bodies and take care of other aspects up to a year before pregnancy. If they are sexually active, it is advisable for them to seek suitable contraception methods in case they do not wish to become pregnant..

Less than half of the pregnancies have not been planned, so many times the woman consumes alcohol without knowing that she is pregnant, it is necessary to inform women about the harmful effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Links and references

  • https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30021-9/fulltext
  • https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30021-9/fulltext
  • https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/95/5/17-030517.pdf
  • Streissguth, A.P., Bookstein, F.L., Barr, H.M., Sampson, P.D., O'Malley, K., & Young, J.K. (2004). Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 5 (4), 228-238.
  • Streissguth, A.P., Barr, H.M., Kogan, J. & Bookstein, F. L., Understanding the occurrence of secondary disabilities in clients with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol effects (FAE). Final report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Seattle: University of Washington, Fetal Alcohol & Drug Unit; August 1996. Tech. No. 96-06.

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