Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Am Fam Physician. 2017 Oct 15;96(8):515-522.


Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) result from intrauterine exposure to alcohol and are the most common nonheritable causes of intellectual disability. The percentage of women who drink or binge drink during pregnancy has increased since 2012. FAS is commonly missed or misdiagnosed, preventing affected children from receiving needed services in a timely fashion. Diagnosis is based on the presence of the following clinical features, all of which must be present: prenatal and/or postnatal growth retardation, facial dysmorphology, central nervous system dysfunction, and neurobehavioral disabilities. FASD is a broader diagnosis that encompasses patients with FAS and others who are affected by prenatal alcohol exposure but do not meet the full criteria for FAS. Management is multidisciplinary and includes managing comorbid conditions, providing nutritional support, managing behavioral problems and educational difficulties, referring patients for habilitative therapies, and educating parents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations recognize no safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and recommend complete abstinence from alcohol. All women should be screened for alcohol use during preconception counseling and prenatal care, and alcohol use should be addressed with brief interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / chemically induced
  • Health Education / organization & administration
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care / organization & administration*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors