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Foetal alcohol syndrome: Preventable but not reversible

  •   by Medihelp
  •   18 October 2016
  •   934 view(s)

On 15 October every year it is National Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Day. Here’s what you should know about this preventable but irreversible disease.

What is foetal alcohol syndrome?
Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy can give birth to babies with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (sometimes known as FASD). FASD is the umbrella term for a range of disorders that can be mild or severe and can cause physical and mental birth defects. Types of FASD include –
  • foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS),
  • partial foetal alcohol syndrome,
  • alcohol-related birth defects,
  • alcohol-related neurodevelopment disorder, and
  • neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.

Foetal alcohol syndrome (or FAS) is a severe form of the condition. People with FAS may have problems with their vision, hearing, memory, attention span, and abilities to learn and communicate. While the defects vary from one person to another, the damage is often permanent.

What are the causes of foetal alcohol syndrome?
FAS is caused by a woman's use of alcohol during her pregnancy. The alcohol that a pregnant woman drinks travels through her bloodstream and across the placenta to her foetus, or developing baby. Because a foetus’s small body breaks down alcohol much more slowly than an adult's body does, the alcohol level in the foetus’s blood is higher than in the mother's blood, and the alcohol remains in the foetus’s blood longer. This exposure of the foetus to alcohol causes FAS.

Women who drink frequently (four or five alcoholic beverages or more per day) greatly increase the chances that their babies will have FAS. However, no amount of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe. The effects of FAS may also be seen in children whose mothers drank only moderately or lightly during pregnancy. An average of only one drink per day increases a baby's risk of FAS.

What are the symptoms of foetal alcohol syndrome?
Since FAS covers a wide range of problems, there are many possible symptoms. The severity of these symptoms ranges from mild to severe, and can include the following:
  • A small head
  • A smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose, small and wide-set eyes, a very thin upper lip, or other abnormal facial features
  • Below average height and weight
  • Hyperactivity
  • A lack of focus
  • Poor coordination
  • Delayed development and problems in thinking, speech, movement, and social skills
  • Poor judgment
  • Problems seeing or hearing
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney defects and abnormalities
  • Deformed limbs or fingers
  • Mood swings.

Is foetal alcohol syndrome treatable?
FAS is treatable but irreversible. Although there is no cure for FAS, children who are diagnosed early — preferably by preschool age — have a better chance of managing the condition because their education can be designed from an early age to maximize their potential.

How can foetal alcohol syndrome be prevented?
Pregnant women can prevent FAS by abstaining from alcohol throughout their pregnancies. The effects of light and occasional alcohol use before a woman realises she is pregnant are not known. Because no amount of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe, any woman who suspects that she might be pregnant should stop drinking immediately. Women who are trying to get pregnant should also avoid alcohol. This applies to all types of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and liquor (such as whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin and rum).

There is no proof that drinking by a father can cause FAS in his child. However, men who stop drinking during their partner's pregnancy may be better able to help their partners avoid alcohol.

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