Recognition and management of fetal alcohol syndrome

Neurotoxicol Teratol. Nov-Dec 2003;25(6):681-8. doi: 10.1016/


Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a common cause of developmental disability, neuropsychiatric impairment and birth defects. The disorder is identified by the presence of growth impairment, central nervous system dysfunction, and a characteristic pattern of craniofacial features. The reported prevalence of the disorder varies widely and recent estimates approach 1% of live births. Expression of these features varies by age. People with FAS have high rates of comorbid conditions: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (40%), mental retardation (15-20%), learning disorders (25%), speech and language disorders (30%), sensory impairment (30%), cerebral palsy (4%), epilepsy (8-10%). Birth defects are common. In the United States, the annual birth cohort of persons with FAS could be as high as 39,000 cases annually. Cause-specific mortality is 6% for patients with FAS. The disorder is expensive to treat and most patients have lifelong impairment. The annual cost of care in the United States would approach US$5.0 billion. Early recognition and entry into appropriate treatment programs appear to improve outcome. Prevention efforts should involve screening for alcohol use prior to pregnancy and at the first prenatal care visit.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Family Health
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders* / psychology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Paternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Teratogens


  • Teratogens