Symptoms and Signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/12/2021

Doctor's Notes on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) results from women drinking alcohol while pregnant. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause birth defects and FAS always involves brain damage, impaired growth, and head and face abnormalities in the baby. There is no amount of alcohol that has been proven safe for consumption during pregnancy.

Symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in children include:

  • diminished growth,
  • low birth weight,
  • impaired performance,
  • irritability (in infants),
  • hyperactivity (in older children),
  • impaired fine motor skills (weak grasp, poor hand-eye coordination), 
  • tremors,
  • diminished intelligence (mild mental retardation is common),
  • small head (microcephalic),
  • face abnormalities (short eye openings, sunken nasal bridge, short nose, flattening of the cheekbones and midface, smoothing and elongation of the ridged area between the nose and lips, and smooth, thin upper lip),
  • abnormal position and function of joints,
  • shortening finger bones,
  • heart murmur, and
  • other birth defects such as hydrocephalus, cleft lip (sometimes with a cleft palate), narrowing of the aorta, and spina bifida.

What Is the Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome is individualized and should address the specific birth defects and/or developmental disabilities. There is no treatment that can cure fetal alcohol syndrome, but quality of life and symptoms may be improved through a combination of treatments. Treatments may include:

  • Early interventions to help with motor skills
  • Speech therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Special school services to address learning and behavioral issues
  • Surgical or other treatment for heart conditions or other birth defects, if present
  • Medications, for certain symptoms
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Family counseling

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.