Condition 101 About Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

What is the definition of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.

What are the alternative names for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Alcohol in pregnancy; Alcohol-related birth defects; Fetal alcohol effects; FAS; Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; Alcohol abuse - fetal alcohol; Alcoholism - fetal alcohol

What are the causes for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Using alcohol during pregnancy can cause the same risks as using alcohol in general. But it poses extra risks to the unborn baby. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it easily passes across the placenta to the fetus. Because of this, drinking alcohol can harm the unborn baby.

There is no "safe" level of alcohol use during pregnancy. Larger amounts of alcohol appear to increase the problems. Binge drinking is more harmful than drinking small amounts of alcohol.

Timing of alcohol use during pregnancy is also important. Drinking alcohol is likely most harmful during the first 3 months of pregnancy. But drinking alcohol any time during pregnancy can be harmful.

What are the symptoms for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

A baby with FAS may have the following symptoms:

  • Poor growth while the baby is in the womb and after birth
  • Decreased muscle tone and poor coordination
  • Delayed developmental milestones
  • Vision difficulties, such as nearsightedness (myopia)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme nervousness
  • Short attention span

What are the current treatments for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should not drink any amount of alcohol. Pregnant women with alcohol use disorder should join a rehabilitation program and be checked closely by a health care provider throughout pregnancy.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

The outcome for infants with FAS varies. Almost none of these babies have normal brain development.

Infants and children with FAS have many different problems, which can be difficult to manage. Children do best if they are diagnosed early and referred to a team of providers who can work on educational and behavioral strategies that fit the child's needs.

When should I contact a medical professional for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Call for an appointment with your provider if you are drinking alcohol regularly or heavily, and are finding it difficult to cut back or stop. Also, call if you are drinking alcohol in any amount while you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

How do I prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy prevents FAS. Counseling can help women who have already had a child with FAS.

Sexually active women who drink heavily should use birth control and control their drinking behaviors, or stop using alcohol before trying to get pregnant.



Hoyme HE, Kalberg WO, Elliott AJ, et al. Updated clinical guidelines for diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2016;138(2). pii: e20154256 PMID: 27464676

Weber RJ, Jauniaux ERM. Drugs and environmental agents in pregnancy and lactation: teratology, epidemiology, and patient management. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 7.

Wozniak JR, Riley EP, Charness ME. Clinical presentation, diagnosis, and management of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Lancet Neurol. 2019;18(8):760-770. PMID: 31160204

Latest Advances On Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

  • Condition: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • Journal: Adapted physical activity quarterly : APAQ
  • Treatment Used: Physical activity intervention
  • Number of Patients: 30
  • Published —
This study evaluated the impact of a physical activity intervention in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
  • Condition: Pregnant alcohol-dependent women
  • Journal: Addiction (Abingdon, England)
  • Treatment Used: Acamprosate
  • Number of Patients: 54
  • Published —
The study researched the safety of acamprosate for pregnant alcohol-dependent women.

Clinical Trials For Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Behavioral
  • Participants: 700
  • Start Date: April 14, 2021
Preventing Alcohol Exposed Pregnancy Among Urban Native Young Women: Mobile CHOICES
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Phase: Phase 2/Phase 3
  • Intervention Type: Dietary Supplement
  • Participants: 288
  • Start Date: February 1, 2021
A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-controlled Clinical Trial of Choline Supplementation During Pregnancy to Mitigate Adverse Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Growth and Cognitive Development