HomeHealth A-ZFetal Alcohol Syndrome: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors and Treatment

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors and Treatment


When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the unborn child is also exposed to alcohol exposure. It can cause a congenital disability in the child called fetal alcohol syndrome. The condition is irreversible and can cause several health issues, such as brain damage or growth problems. Although, the condition varies from child to child, it is important to note that any amount of alcohol exposure can result in this condition.

The blog explains fetal alcohol syndrome, its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and preventive measures.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

As mentioned earlier, fetal alcohol syndrome is a permanent and irreversible congenital disability of the child from alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. It causes brain damage and growth problems. However, fetal alcohol syndrome causes varying symptoms in each child.

It is vital to remember that any alcohol exposure, little to severe, can interfere with the unborn’s child development causing several health issues. The condition is the most severe condition among a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. However, this condition is preventable if the expectant mother does not consume even a small amount of alcohol during the pregnancy.

What are the different types of fetal alcohol syndrome?

There are different types of fetal alcohol syndrome. They are as follows:

  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Alcohol-related birth defects
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopment disorder
  • Neuro behavioural disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure

What are the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome?

The symptoms and severity of the condition may vary from child to child. However, some children experience severity much higher than others. The signs and symptoms of the condition may include a combination of physical, intellectual, or cognitive deficits.  

The physical deficits include:

  • Distinct facial features include small eyes, a thin upper lip, a short and upturned nose, and smooth skin between the upper lips and the nose.
  • Joints, limbs, and fingers deformities 
  • Sluggish physical growth before and after birth
  • Hearing or vision issues 
  • Small head and brain size
  • Heart problems and issues with kidneys and bones

The symptoms of the brain and central nervous system issues are:

  • Poor coordination and imbalance
  • Intellectual and learning disability
  • Developmental delays
  • Weak memory
  • Attention and processing information deficit 
  • Issues with reasoning and problem-solving 
  • Problem linking the consequences of choices
  • Lack judgment skills
  • Restlessness or hyperactivity
  • Severe mood swings

The following are the symptoms of social and behavioural issues:

  • Trouble interacting with others
  • Poor social skills
  • Issues in school
  • Unable to adapt to change or switch between one task to another
  • Behavioural issues and impulse control
  • Difficulty planning and staying on one task

What are the causes of fetal alcohol syndrome?

As the name suggests, maternal exposure to alcohol is the cause of fetal alcohol syndrome. When the mother consumes alcohol during the pregnancy, the baby is also exposed to it. Since the baby’s liver is underdeveloped to process or break down the alcohol, the results can be devastating. It may result in the following:

  • Miscarriage 
  • Stillbirth
  • Preterm labour and 
  • Birth defects

When to seek medical attention for fetal alcohol syndrome?

If a pregnant woman cannot stop drinking alcohol, it is important to seek advice from the healthcare provider. 

What are the risk factors of fetal alcohol syndrome?

If a pregnant woman drinks more alcohol, the chances of problems in the baby become greater. However, there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Avoid drinking alcohol, if:

  • Pregnant
  • Trying to conceive

What are the complications of fetal alcohol syndrome?

The complications of fetal alcohol syndrome may not be present at birth but may result in secondary disabilities such as:

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Inappropriate behaviour, aggressive, and breaking the rules and laws
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Issues with staying in or completing school
  • Unable to live independently and retain a job
  • Unacceptable sexual behaviour
  • Early death due to accident, homicide, or suicide

What are the different treatment options for fetal alcohol syndrome?

Therapy may help with behavioural and educational problems. However, parents should also be trained to help their children deal with the symptoms. No particular medication may help the condition, but medicines for symptoms such as hyperactivity, lack of focus, or anxiety are available. The following are the medications:

  • Antidepressants to treat severe mood swings, irritability, aggression, and education-related problems
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Neuroleptics and stimulants to treat behavioural issues, including hyperactivity, trouble concentrating, and lack of impulse control

Additionally, it is crucial to provide the required helps for mothers with alcohol addiction as it may prevent fetal alcohol syndrome disorders in future children. 

How can one prevent fetal alcohol syndrome?

Experts believe that fetal alcohol syndrome is preventable when a woman avoids drinking alcohol throughout the pregnancy. The following are the guidelines that help women prevent fetal alcohol syndrome:

  • Avoid consuming alcohol if trying to conceive: If a woman is trying for a baby, one of the first steps is to stop drinking as soon as there are pregnancy symptoms or suspicion of one. The sooner the woman stops, the better it is for the baby.
  • Consider continuing to avoid alcohol throughout the pregnancy: The syndrome is entirely preventable when mothers abstain from drinking. 
  • Restrict alcohol consumption during childbearing: years  A sexually active woman enjoying unprotected sex should restrict alcohol consumption during the childbearing years as numerous pregnancies are unplanned, and damage can be caused at the early stages of pregnancy. 
  • Find help for alcohol addiction: Getting professional help for alcohol dependence and developing a treatment plan is crucial. 


Fetal alcohol syndrome is a preventable disorder. All one needs to do is avoid alcohol consumption during the entire pregnancy. However, if a woman unknowingly consumes alcohol when pregnant, avoid alcohol in the future and ask for professional help. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How is fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosed?

Diagnosing the disorder is difficult as there isn’t a direct test for it. However, childcare experts can often diagnose the condition based on the physical features and symptoms developed through childhood. Some of the signs are as follows:

  • History of alcohol abuse by the mother
  • Irregular facial features
  • Low birth weight and incapable of weight gain throughout childhood
  • Problems in emotion and behaviour

Certain symptoms also resemble certain disorders, such as:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Williams syndrome

Is fetal alcohol syndrome a life-long disorder?

Yes, fetal alcohol syndrome is a life-long disorder. 

Is there a cure for fetal alcohol syndrome?

There is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome. 

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