Fetal Alcohol Syndrome describes a series of medical and mental problems that arise from a mother’s drinking while pregnant.

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About Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

fetal alcohol syndromeFetal Alcohol Syndrome describes a series of medical and mental problems that arise from a mother’s drinking while pregnant.  Because alcohol can cross the fetal barrier, it can create birth defects, slow mental and physical development, and cause permanent central nervous system damage to the brain.  Among the developmental problems that follow Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are primary cognitive and functional disabilities such as poor memory, attention deficits, impulsive behavior, and poor cause and effect reasoning, as well as secondary disabilities such as a predisposition to mental health problems and drug addiction later in life.  In addition, alcohol related birth defects can include cardiac, skeletal, eye and kidney problems.

The only certain prevention for the damage caused by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is complete abstinence during pregnancy, as it has not been established how much alcohol is necessary to produce the negative effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Despite this knowledge, roughly one third of pregnant women report drinking at some point during their pregnancy.  The life-long effects of the damage done by drinking on fetal development and future growth and learning should provide ample motivation for pregnant women to abstain from alcohol.

Though there is no treatment for the central nervous system damage that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can cause, some of the physical symptoms can be treated.  Some of the facial deformities can be corrected through cosmetic surgeries.  The mental and emotional effects, however, are far more lasting.  Teens who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are far more likely to have legal troubles and juvenile delinquency than others.  In addition, they are more prone to inappropriate sexual behaviors and drug and alcohol problems of their own.

Signs of fetal alcohol syndrome may include:

  • Distinctive facial features, including small eyes, an exceptionally thin upper lip, a short, upturned nose, and a smooth skin surface between the nose and upper lip
  • Deformities of joints, limbs and fingers
  • Slow physical growth before and after birth
  • Vision difficulties or hearing problems
  • Small head circumference and brain size (microcephaly)
  • Poor coordination
  • Mental retardation and delayed development
  • Learning disorders
  • Abnormal behavior, such as a short attention span, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, extreme nervousness and anxiety
  • Heart defects

The facial features seen with fetal alcohol syndrome may also occur in normal, healthy children. Distinguishing normal facial features from those of fetal alcohol syndrome requires expertise.

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