Most people may consume alcohol in the present society, irrespective of gender and age. However, not many know that if a woman consumes alcohol during her pregnancy period, it could negatively affect the health of her baby. In fact, the child born from an alcoholic mother may have a range of disorders that are collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). One of the most severe issues that occur in newborns because of prenatal alcohol exposure is the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

This is actually an umbrella term for the number of disorders that may occur in a child whose mother consumed alcohol at the time of her pregnancy. FASD is mainly used to define a condition in children who show only a few symptoms of FAS. That is, a child affected with FASD may not have the facial abnormalities like that of a kid affected with FAS, but he/she may have mental retardation as severe as that of the FAS child.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the main causes of birth defects and mental retardation in newborn babies. As the name indicates, it occurs as a result of alcohol consumption of the mother during their pregnancy period. FAS is actually a lifelong condition and it includes a number of disabilities such as growth deficiency, abnormal facial features, problems that affect the central nervous system, etc.

Apart from that, a child with FAS can also develop many secondary conditions that affect his social life such as legal issues, disruption of education, mental health disorders, drug and alcohol issues, inappropriate sexual behavior, and many other issues with their daily lifestyle. Additionally, children suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may sometimes have issues regarding their learning skills, communication, vision, attention span, hearing, etc. In extreme cases, an affected child can have a combination of most of these effects. This will, in turn, make it challenging for such kids to get along with others. In short, FAS is an incurable and permanent disorder that affects almost every aspect of the life of the sufferers as well as their family members.

Symptoms of FAS in Children

It will be very challenging for the parents to understand the health issues of newborns since they cannot express things verbally. Luckily, there are certain symptoms with which you can understand whether your child is a victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

  • Growth deficiency
  • Hearing or vision impairments
  • Neurological, structural, or functional impairment associated with the Central Nervous System
  • A unique combination of facial abnormalities such as a thin upper lip, small head, small eyes, and a smooth philtrum, which is the vertical channel that is present right above the lips

Behavioral Signs

  • Poor movement coordination
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Learning disability
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor memory and judgment skills
  • Low IQ and developmental disabilities
  • Sleep disorders

If a child exhibits any/all of these symptoms, he/she is more likely to be suffering from FAS. Note that it will be confusing if a child exhibits only a few of these symptoms though. For instance, a child may not have the facial abnormalities but may have all other symptoms. So, it is better to consult a physician right away if you see any of the FAS symptoms in your kid, so that you can diagnose the disorder efficiently at the very early stage.

  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – Some kids may showcase all the symptoms of FAS except the growth deficiencies or facial abnormalities. This type of condition is termed Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In such children, all other FAS-related features, especially the Central Nervous System impairment will be prominent. According to a recent study, around 40% of the kids suffering from FAS show only the Central Nervous System issues. Yet again, it is not necessary that a kid suffering from Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome must have FAS as well.
  • Static Encephalopathy – Another condition is Static Encephalopathy, which refers kids with neurological, structural, or functional abnormalities in the Central Nervous System. The main point to be noted here is that the abnormalities in this case will be static. That is, it will neither progress nor regress.
  • Neurobehavioral Disorder – This is another birth defect that occurs as a result of prenatal exposure to alcohol. In this condition, the sufferer will have a mild functional impairment to the Central Nervous System, but will not have any signs of neurological and structural abnormalities.

Prevention and Treatment

The best option to prevent FAS in your kids is to avoid alcohol consumption during your pregnancy period. Since it is not clear that how much alcohol will harm your baby, it recommended to avoid it completely. Besides, there is no cure for FAS once it is developed. However, if a kid takes adequate treatment measure in the beginning stage, it will help him/her to lead a normal life.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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