Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

A pregnant woman‬‏ with a glass of alcohol in her hand, this can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


Pregnancy can change a woman’s life, it can be physical and emotional.
The pregnancy is divided into three trimesters:

  • First trimester – from the first month to the 3rd month of conception
  • Second trimester – from the fourth month to the 6th month of pregnancy
  • Third trimester – from 7th to 9th month until delivery of the baby.

The first trimester is the most crucial month during pregnancy, the development of the shape and organs of the fetus takes place. Some instances affect the development of the fetus such as teratogens. Teratogens can cause harmful effects on the developing embryo like medicines and chemicals such as alcohol.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a term that describes the condition of a baby exposed to alcohol during the pregnancy. The amount of alcohol ingested does not vary when it comes to the defects acquired by the baby. According to statistics, about 20 percent of women drinks during the 1st trimester whether they know they are pregnant or they are not aware they are.

There are a variety of disorders that can arise like:

  • Congenital disabilities that are alcohol related
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome, which means the criteria for diagnosis was not met.
  • Behavioral disorders and neurological disorders may arise like memory impairment and cognitive disorders


Once the mother drinks any kind of alcohol during pregnancy, the fetus is at risk for developing Fetal alcohol syndrome. Various conditions may vary from one infant to another like physical deformities to neurological disorders.

Neurological Disorders

Impaired motor skills

  • Hyperactivity and jitteriness noted.
  • Balance and coordination are also impaired.


The learning disability and poor memory can affect the child

  • Unable to identify possible consequences of his or her actions
  • Mood changes abruptly
  • Poor judgment
  • Slow in processing information and problem-solving

Social interactions

Social interactions are affected. Dealing with other people is difficult for them. They may manifest these symptoms:

  • Troubles with adapting to change
  • Being impulsive
  • Confused with time
  • Short attention span to work, play and even study
  • Bad social skills
  • Problems in schools

Physical attributes

This can range from facial features to organ structures and functions including:

  • Impaired kidneys
  • Joint and bone deformities
  • Slowed growth
  • Eye and hearing problems
  • Head and body proportions

Heart Problems like congenital heart defects

  • Facial features like thin upper lip and small eyes

Cryptorchidism for male

This condition is the absence of testes and scrotum due to developmental changes and impairment, commonly known as undescended testes.


As the mother consumes alcohol as early as the first trimester of pregnancy, she will put the developing baby at risk. During the development of the embryo, the placenta serves as a connection from the mother to the baby. It delivers oxygen and nutrients to the baby as it grows.

Alcohol can enter the placenta and can go directly to the baby, unable to process the alcohol in the system, the alcohol can do damage to the organs of the fetus.
The supply of oxygen circulating will be depleted including nutrients that the fetus needs.

4Risk Factors

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy is enough to put your baby at risk of having Fetal Alcohol syndrome. The amount of alcohol that you put into your body does not guarantee the level of risk that you are imposing in your growing baby. Don’t drink alcohol if you are pregnant or possibly pregnant.

Researchers also considered the amount of exposure when the ingestion of alcohol occurred.it is said that during the first trimester is the most crucial stage of pregnancy.
The pattern of drinking, the use of other toxic substances, age, and stress levels of the mother also the genetic composition of the mother that is passed down through generations like alcohol exposure.


The child with FAS may later develop symptoms that are not managed or address well will lead to complications like:

Mental health disorders

Unlike other children, they experience episodes of depression and anxiety because of their differences in terms of mental and cognitive development. They cannot do their usual activities like other children and lack of social interaction can greatly add to the feeling of loneliness thus experience depression.

Facial and physical features

  • Microphthalmia, the anatomic deformity that involves the size of the eyes, may manifest.
  • Microcephaly or having a small head
  • Philtrum that is flat
  • Ptosis or the abnormally dropping of the eye
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate

Social misconduct

The person might be aloof and does not know how to deal with people making it hard for them to build relationships or rapport to people.

Alcohol abuse

It is known that in later adulthood, some of the people who have this conditions can be an alcohol abuser and even a drug user.


Not all can leave a better life, the lack of focus for those who have fetal alcohol syndrome may be prominent even in employment and also in the classroom.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD

It is a disorder that affects the chemicals in the brain. It is an ongoing cycle of hyperactivity, inability to focus on a certain task and impulsiveness.


A child may not even want to go to school because of various problems. The inability to interact with other children, short attention span and inability to process information that is complicated may add to the insecurities of the child opting not to go to school.


Later in adulthood, there must be someone who can help in his or her activities of daily living.


Due to depression and anxiety, the person may choose to end his or her life. Accidents may also happen.


The doctor may ask a complete history if the mother has taken in alcohol during pregnancy. Some questions may include:

  • The use of drugs before or during pregnancy
  • Problems encountered during pregnancy
  • The symptoms that you have seen on the child and how often

A physical exam of the baby will tell the doctor if they have fetal alcohol syndrome.

  • Facial features like the upper lip are thin, smooth skin between the mouth and nose.
  • Visual and hearing tests may be conducted as early as the infant is born
  • Coordination of the hands and feet
  • The growth rate of the baby is slow compared to other babies.

Early diagnosis may help the child have a better life when he reaches adulthood. Medications and interventions as early as toddler stage may help reduce the neurological and behavioral symptoms of the problem in mental and cognitive disorder.


Teaching the mother about the pregnancy is a way to treat Fetal alcohol syndrome. Adequate Knowledge before, during and after pregnancy is a must to prevent such disorders of the baby. Advise the mother not to drink alcohol during pregnancy to reduce the number of risks that can be acquired during the development of the fetus.

Counselling and seminars may help the mother during these times, support groups are present in communities that address drinking problems that can help the mother who has drinking addiction.

Medications addressing the other symptoms can also help the child.

  • Neuroleptics – used to treat aggression and anxiety
  • Antidepressants – for patients who are experiencing depression
  • Antianxiety Medications – to address episodes of anxiety
  • Stimulants: to treat hyperactivity and behavioral characteristics

Family support for the child and dealing with behavioral problems may be a challenge but to handle the symptoms, the mother and father should be here as a support.

  • Make schedules for the child: having a list of activities may keep track and get the attention of the child.
  • Knowing the child strengths and limitations can help in handling the child.
  • Repetition of words and works will reinforce memory enhancement.
  • Simple words must be used.
  • Rules and regulations that are simple to prevent confusion.
  • Rewards after an achievement may also help the boost the confidence of the child.
  • Teach independence as simple as possible.
  • Expose the child to other children to mingle and build relationships.


Abstinence from drinking alcohol is the best way to prevent Fetal alcohol syndrome from occurring. If you are planning to get pregnant don’t drink alcohol. It is also good to seek doctor’s advice when you have problems with getting pregnant and even when it comes to drinking problems.

Medical practitioners like the doctors, nurses and even midwives can advise how to manage the problem and can also teach the mother some family planning which includes the dangers of chemicals that are used by the mother not only alcohol but also over the counter medications that are not prescribed by a physician.

Health promotion and teaching must continue to emphasize the need for moderation, if not complete abstinence from drinking alcohol, the use of drugs, and smoking before, during and after conception.

In some cases, children who have fetal alcohol syndrome would be subjected to monthly check-ups to monitor the growth and development and to help address the rising symptoms and to prevent complications in children and even in adults in the future.