What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

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Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a disorder that may occur to the embryo when a pregnant woman ingests any amount of alcohol during pregnancy. An ingestion of alcohol does not always result in FAS, but no amount of alcohol whatsoever is proven safe for consumption during pregnancy. The current recommendation of both the US Surgeon General and the UK Department of Health is not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.[1][2]

Alcoholcrosses the placental barrierand can stunt fetal growthor weight, create distinctive facial stigmata, damage neuronsand brain structures, and cause other physical, mental, or behavioral problems.[3][4][5]Surveys found that in the United States, 10–15% of pregnant women report having recently used alcohol, and up to 30% use alcohol at some point during pregnancy.[6][7][8]The main effect of FAS is permanent central nervous system damage, especially to the brain. Developing brain cells and structures are underdeveloped or malformed by prenatal alcohol exposure, often creating an array of primary cognitive and functional disabilities (including poor memory, attention deficits, impulsive behavior, and poor cause-effect reasoning) as well as secondary disabilities (for example, mental health problems, and drug addiction).[5][9] The risk of brain damage exists during each trimester, since the fetal brain develops throughout the entire pregnancy.[10]
Fetal alcohol exposure is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the Western world.[11][dubiousdiscussIn the United States the FAS prevalence rate is estimated to be between 0.2 and 2.0 cases per 1,000 live births, comparable to or higher than other developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome or spina bifida.[12][dubiousdiscuss]The lifetime medical and social costsof each child with FAS are estimated to be as high as US$800,000.[13]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_alcohol_syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) refers to a constellation of physical and mental birth defects that may develop in individuals whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy. It is an organic brain disorder which is characterized by central nervous system involvement, growth retardation, and characteristic facial features (Stratton, Howe, & Battaglia, 1996).

FAS is a medical diagnosis that can only be made when a child has signs of abnormalities in each of these three areas, plus known or suspected exposure to alcohol prenatally. Other physical defects caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol may include malformation of major organs (including heart, kidneys, liver) and other parts of the body (e.g. muscles, genitals, bones) (Stratton, Howe, & Battaglia, 1996.

FAS is often called a “hidden” or “invisible” disability because its physical characteristics can be subtle and may go unrecognized. Many alcohol-affected children are endearing and affectionate, and these qualities can mask the seriousness of this lifelong neurological disability. In their early years, children with FAS are often described as the cutest child in their class. http://www.fasaware.co.uk/education_docs/daily_guide_for_living.pdf

NIH reports areas of the brain that can be damaged in utero by maternal alcohol consumption:

Source: Mattson, S.N., et al. MRI and prenatal alcohol exposure: Images provide insight into FAS. Alcohol Health & Research World 18(1):49–52, 1994.


From 1989 - 1996 Dr. Turben was Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at John Carroll University. In addition to teaching Teach Education and Early Childhood-Special Education courses, she supervised masters and post-baccalaureate programs that lead to the PreK, Kindergarten, and Early Education of Handicapped Children validations. She has done research concerning the effectiveness of home visits, the importance of neighborhoods as social structures and parent involvement in schools.
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