Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Pregnant woman drinking wine
Pregnant woman drinking wine. Getty Images/Jupiterimages/Photolibrary


FAS, Alcohol-related birth defects, Fetal alcohol effects

Medical Specialties:

Family practice, Obstetrics/gynecology, Pediatrics

Clinical Definition:

Fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, is a collection of congenital defects, such as ventricular septal defect or atrial septal defect, facial abnormalities and other developmental problems caused by exposure of the fetus to alcohol during pregnancy.

Alcohol consumption during the first trimester is most hazardous.

In Our Own Words:

Fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, is a collection of birth defects due to a woman consuming alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol easily passes across the placenta to the fetus and can harm the baby's development.

A baby with FAS may have decreased muscle tone, poor coordination, delayed development and growth, heart defects and facial abnormalities. No safe level of alcohol during pregnancy has been set, and drinking during the first three months or trimester is considered the most harmful. While the outcome for affected babies varies, normal brain development is not common.

Additional Information About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Technically, fetal alcohol syndrome is one of 4 fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. In other words, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders is a blanket term, which refers to a gamut of bad things that can happen after a fetus is exposed to alcohol by means of the mother's circulation.

Here are the 4 fetal alcohol spectrum disorders:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome is the worst fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to the full syndrome caused by alcohol ingestion by the mother and includes characteristic facial deformities, brain damage, neurodevelopmental abnormalities, growth deficiency as well as behavioral and cognitive abnormalities.
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome refers to the presence of 2 facial anomalies in addition to one other symptom of fetal alcohol syndrome like brain damage or behavioral abnormalities. For the most part, kids with partial fetal alcohol syndrome don't experience growth deficiency.
  • Alcohol-related developmental disorder doesn't involve facial anomalies.However,children with this disorder exhibit neurodevelopmental abnormalities or cognitive and behavior abnormalities, such as learning disabilities, problems with memory or attention, poor impulse control and so forth. Alcohol-related developmental disorder is a diagnosis of exclusion meaning that all other causes of disease must be ruled out including family history of disease and other environmental factors.
  • Children with alcohol-related birth defects typically exhibit one or more congenital anomalies that affects the heart, eyes, skeletal muscles, kidneys or so forth. Alternatively, a child with an alcohol-related birth defect may have two or more minor birth defects such as hypoplastic nails (small nails) or clinodactyly or curvature of the finger.

    It's important to recognize that by drinking alcohol while pregnant, a mother not only exposes her child to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome but also a host of other abnormalities or anomalies. Furthermore, in order to be diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, a mother needs not even to have been exposed to alcohol in the first place. Thus, it's never a good idea for you to drink while pregnant.


    Harvard Medical School. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." 2013. Accessed November 2013.

    University of Maryland Medical Center. "Fetal alcohol syndrome." Medical Encyclopedia. August 2012.. Accessed November 2013.

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