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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

Oct 20, 2023

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a disorder that can affect a child whose mother was exposed to alcohol when she was pregnant. Developmental issues and brain impairment are the results of fetal alcohol syndrome. While the impacts of fetal alcohol syndrome differ from child to child, the damage it causes is irreversible.

It's not safe to drink alcohol in excess when pregnant. Your newborn child is more likely to develop fetal alcohol syndrome if you consume alcohol throughout your pregnancy.

Make an appointment for an urgent visit with your doctor if you think the child may have fetal alcohol syndrome. Disorders such as behavioral disorders and learning difficulties may not be as severe if they are detected early.

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Causes Of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

 Consuming alcohol while you are pregnant can cause:

  • Alcohol enters your circulation and travels via the placenta to reach your developing fetus. Alcohol causes higher blood alcohol concentrations in developing newborns than in adults because a fetus has a slower metabolism of alcohol than an adult.
  • Alcohol keeps your unborn child from getting the finest nourishment and oxygen.
  • Drinking alcohol before giving birth can impair the development of organs and tissues and cause permanent brain damage in your newborn.
  • The more alcohol you drink while pregnant, the greater the risk to your newborn. However, alcohol has an impact on your child in all ways.
  • Your baby's heart, brain, and blood vessels begin to form in the first few weeks of pregnancy before you even realize you're expecting.

Alcohol use during the first trimester has been associated with problems with the heart, brain, and other organs, including the bones. The fetus's essential parts are in important developmental stages at this point.

Symptoms Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome can vary in intensity in children, with some exhibiting significantly more than others. Fetal alcohol syndrome can manifest as any combination of physical abnormalities, mental or cognitive problems, and difficulties adjusting to everyday life.

Physical defects

Physical defects could include:

  • Abnormalities in the limbs, joints, and fingers
  • Small eyes, a very thin upper lip, a short, slanted nose, and a smooth spot of skin between the nose and top lip are among the facial characteristics.
  • Slow physical development during pregnancy
  • After birth problems related to hearing or vision
  • Small brain size and head circumference
  • Heart abnormalities in addition to renal and bone abnormalities

The following diseases may affect the brain and central nervous system:

  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Learning problems, delayed development, and intellectual disability
  • Poor memory, difficulty focusing and processing information, difficulties with reasoning and problem-solving, and difficulty comprehending how decisions affect you
  • Anger
  • Incompetent decision-making
  • Excessive activity
  • Abrupt changes in mood, behavioral problems

Social problems

Social interaction, coping, and functioning issues might include:

  • Not getting along with people or having difficulty in school
  • Low social abilities
  • Having trouble controlling one's behavior, managing behavior or cravings, organizing or working towards a goal, changing tasks or adapting to change, or managing time.

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Risk Factors Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The more alcohol you drink throughout your pregnancy, the more likely it is that your unborn kid will have problems. 

You might put your unborn child at risk even before you realize you are pregnant. Don't drink if:

  • You are the parent of a child.
  • You think maybe you're pregnant.
  • You are trying to become pregnant.

Diagnosis Of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

A thorough investigation and expert diagnosis are required for fetal alcohol syndrome. Your child's functioning can be improved with early intervention and diagnosis.

To diagnose you, your doctor:

  • Discusses Consuming Alcohol when Pregnant: If you provide the date and amount of alcohol ingested, your obstetrician or other healthcare professional can help determine the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. Medical professionals can assess the health of the mother and the fetus during pregnancy, even if they cannot detect fetal alcohol syndrome before birth.
  • During your child's early weeks, months, and years of life, keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome. This means seeing your baby closely, assessing how they appear on the outside, noting any distinguishing characteristics and keeping an eye on their physical and mental development.

The doctor may also look for:

  • Cognitive ability, problems related to learning and language acquisition
  • medical issues
  • Problems with behavior and society
  • Many traits common to fetal alcohol syndrome can also be observed in children with other medical problems. If your child's doctor suspects fetal alcohol syndrome, they may refer him or her to a neurologist, developmental pediatrician, or other specialist with particular knowledge of the issue. In addition to allowing for a complete evaluation, this will help rule out other illnesses that might exhibit similar signs and symptoms.

Complications with the alcohol spectrum in fetal alcohol

  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders refer to the collection of symptoms caused by alcohol usage during pregnancy, as not all affected children show all signs and symptoms. This spectrum includes:
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder: During pregnancy, alcohol use may cause learning and behavioral problems, intellectual disability, or both.
  • Alcohol-related birth defects are physical birth defects caused by alcohol use during pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy-related alcohol intake can result in birth defects and neurodevelopmental deficits, including fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe type of fetal alcohol spectrum illness.
  • A disease known as partial fetal alcohol syndrome arises when there are some signs and symptoms of alcohol usage during pregnancy, but the diagnostic criteria are not met.
  • Neurobehavioral disorders associated with prenatal alcohol exposure are problems with mental health, memory, impulse control, communication, and daily living skills that arise from neurocognitive impairments.
  • If one family member is diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, it may be essential to evaluate the affected child's siblings to see whether they are also impacted by the disease if the mother consumed alcohol during these pregnancies.

Treatment Of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

There is no known cure or particular treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome. Usually, the physical and mental disabilities are permanent.

Conversely, early intervention strategies could reduce some of the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and help avoid certain associated problems in the future. Possible treatment options include:

  • A team that includes a special education teacher, a physical and occupational therapist, a psychologist, and a speech therapist
  • Early intervention to promote speech, walking, and social skills
  • Specialist services are offered in schools to deal with issues related to behavior and academic performance
  • Medications to address certain conditions
  • Medical care for diseases including irregular heartbeats or vision problems
  • When appropriate, resolving problems associated with alcohol and other substance usage
  • Instruction in professional and life skills therapy for the families and parents benefit in dealing with a child's behavioral problems

Complications Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Problem behavior or subsequent impairments that are not visible at birth can be brought on by fetal alcohol syndrome. These actions may consist of:

  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder 
  • Violent acts, inappropriate social conduct, and breaking the law
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Mental health issues include depression, anxiety, and eating disorders
  • Problems completing or continuing education
  • Problems with completing or continuing schooling Problems with independent employment and living
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Early death as a result of an accident, murder, or suicide

Prevention Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Professionals are aware that if expectant mothers abstain from alcohol entirely, fetal alcohol syndrome can be avoided entirely.

Follow these recommendations to help prevent fetal alcohol syndrome:

  • If you're trying to get pregnant, avoid alcohol: As soon as you find you are pregnant, or even if you suspect you might be, quit drinking if you haven't already. For the sake of your unborn child, you should give up alcohol as soon as possible when you are pregnant, but it's never too late.
  • Don't consume alcohol while you are pregnant: It is entirely preventable for children whose mothers abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy to develop fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • If you have unprotected sex during your reproductive years and are sexually active, you may want to consider quitting alcohol. Damage may occur during the first few weeks of pregnancy since many pregnancies are unplanned.
  • Seek alcoholism therapy before becoming pregnant. 

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