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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Diagnosis And Prevention

Accurate diagnosis of FAS is extremely important because affected children require special education to enable them to integrate more easily into society. Mild FAS often goes unnoticed or mimics symptomatology caused by other birth defects. It is important, therefore, that children with abnormalities, especially in cases where the mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy, be fully evaluated by a professional knowledgeable about birth defects. Evidence of the characteristic facial abnormalities, growth retardation, and neurodevelopmental abnormalities are critical for diagnosing FAS. Neuroimaging techniques, such as CT or MRI scans provide a visual representation of the affected areas of the brain and studies using these techniques support observations that alcohol has specific rather than global effects on brain development.

Genetic differences in an individual's ability to metabolize alcohol may contribute to the variability in clinical manifestations. For example, in comparing the effects on the offspring of a woman who ingests moderate amounts of alcohol to the offspring of another woman who drinks the same amount can be variable.

Alcohol is a legal psychoactive drug with a high potential for abuse and addiction. Because it crosses the placenta (and enters the blood stream of the unborn baby), the level of blood alcohol in the baby is directly related to that of the mother, and occurs within just a few short minutes of ingestion. Despite warnings about alcohol consumption by pregnant women placed on the labels of alcoholic beverages initiated during the early 1980s, more than 70,000 children in the ensuing 10 years were born with FAS in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, more than 130,000 pregnant women per year consume alcohol at levels known to considerably increase the risk of having a infant with FAS or FAS-related disorder.



Steissguth, Ann P., Fred L. Bookstein, Paul D. Sampson, and Helen M. Barr. The Enduring Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Child Development. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Stratton, K., C. Howe, and F. Battaglia. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1996.


Ebrahim, S.H., S.T. Diekman, L. Floyd, and P. Decoufle. "Comparison of Binge Drinking Among Pregnant and Nonpregnant Women, United States, 1991–1995." Am J Obstet Gynecol 180(1 pt. 1):1–7, 1999.

Armstrong, Elizabeth M. "Diagnosing Moral Disorder: the Discovery and Evolution of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome." Social Science & Medicine 47, no. 12 (Dec 15, 1998): 2025.

Johnson, Jeannette L., and Michelle Leff. "Children of Substance Abusers: Overview of Research Findings." Pediatrics 103, no. 5. (May 1999): 1085.


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome by Anuppa Caleekal B.A., M.Sc. (Health Science and Technology Gallery). 2002 [cited January 15, 2003]. <http://www.digitalism.org/hst/fetal.html.>.

National Drug Strategy Fetal AS: A National Expert, Advisory Committee on Alcohol, Colleen O'Leary, December 8, 2000 [cited January, 10, 2003]. <http://www.health.gov.au/pubhlth/publicat/document/fetalcsyn.pdf.>.

Marie L. Thompson
Bryan R. Cobb

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ferroelectric materials to Form and matterFetal Alcohol Syndrome - Alcohol As A Teratogen, A Historical And Research Perspective Of Fas, Diagnosis And Prevention