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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Facts

  • Alcohol is capable of causing birth defects.
  • FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) always involves brain damage.
  • FAS always involves impaired growth.
  • FAS always involves head and face abnormalities.
  • No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy.
  • Women who are or may become pregnant are advised to avoid alcohol.

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

  • Although the dangers of alcohol during pregnancy had long been suspected, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) was formally described in 1968 by P. Lemoine and colleagues from Nantes (France) in 127 children of alcoholic parents.
  • Their report in a French pediatric journal drew little attention. Focus on FAS only came after it was independently re-described in 1973 by K.L. Jones and colleagues from Seattle (U.S.) in eight children of mothers with chronic alcoholism. Their report in the British medical journal The Lancet triggered an avalanche of reports of FAS.
  • Alcohol is capable of causing birth defects. This capability classifies it medically as a teratogen.
  • Alcohol is now recognized as the leading teratogen to which the fetus is likely to be exposed.
  • This applies only to societies in which alcoholic beverages are consumed. In these populations, prenatal alcohol exposure is thought to be the most common cause of mental retardation.
  • In fact, according to research published in Pediatrics, alcohol use among women of childbearing age (18-44 years) "constitutes a leading, preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the U.S."
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/20/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Signs and Symptoms

Do you know someone affected by fetal alcohol syndrome? What were the first symptoms and signs of the condition?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Effects

What problems (for example, eye, ear, teeth, hearing) has the child you know with fetal alcohol syndrome encountered?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Drinking While Pregnant

Did you or your mother drink during pregnancy? Please discuss any concerns, including the outcome.


Alcohol problems vary in severity from mild to life threatening and affect the individual, the alcoholic's family, and society in numerous adverse ways.

Signs of a drinking problem include

  • insomnia,
  • loss of employment,
  • blackouts,
  • depression,
  • auto accidents,
  • bruises,
  • frequent falls, and
  • anxiety.

Treatment involves stabilization, detoxification, and rehabilitation of the alcohol-dependent person.

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