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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), caused by exposure of the fetus to alcohol, is diagnosed on the basis of three types of birth defects: growth retardation, physical anomalies, and central nervous system dysfunction. The amount of alcohol necessary to cause FAS is unknown, but is thought to be related to timing and duration of exposure. The best intervention is prevention. Encouraging women to abstain from alcohol use during pregnancy is the best way to prevent FAS.

There is no cure for FAS, only treatment for the associated complications such as attention deficit disorder. Children diagnosed with FAS are at risk for long-term effects. Facial characteristics, frequently associated with FAS, may change with age. However, growth problems persist throughout adulthood. The most serious birth defects relate to the central nervous system, and these also continue into adulthood. Affected children may have decreased IQ scores and behavioral disorders. The incidence of FAS is 1 to 2 infants per 1,000 live births.


Bauer, Charles. "Perinatal Effects of Perinatal Drug Exposure Neonatal Aspects." Clinics in Perinatology 26 (1999):87-106.

Jones, K. L. "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome."Pediatrics in Review8(1996):122-126.

Kenner, Carole, and Karen D'Apolito. "Outcomes for Children Exposed to Drugs In Utero." Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing 26 (1997):595-603.

Martinez, Alma, J. Colin Partridge, Xylina Bean, and H. William Taeusch. "Perinatal Substance Abuse." In H. William Taeusch and Roberta Ballard eds., Avery's Diseases of the Newborn. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1998.

Meica M. Efird

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 3