Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure with or without physical features of fetal alcohol syndrome leads to IQ deficits

J Pediatr. 1997 Nov;131(5):718-21. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3476(97)70099-4.


Objective: To assess general intellectual functioning in children with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure, with or without the facial features and growth deficiencies characteristic of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Design: Forty-seven alcohol-exposed children were recruited on evaluation at a dysmorphology clinic and evaluated as part of a university research project using standard tests of IQ. Thirty-four of the alcohol-exposed patients met the traditional diagnostic criteria for FAS. The other 13 alcohol-exposed children lacked both the pattern of facial features and prenatal or postnatal growth deficiency characteristic of the diagnosis.

Results: Compared with normal control subjects matched for age, sex, and ethnicity, both groups of alcohol-exposed children displayed significant deficits in overall IQ measures and deficits on most of the subtest scores. Although those in the nondysmorphic group usually obtained marginally higher IQ scores than those in the FAS group, few significant differences were found between the two alcohol-exposed groups.

Conclusions: These results indicate that high levels of prenatal alcohol exposure are related to an increased risk for deficits in intellectual functioning and that these can occur in children without all of the physical features required for a diagnosis of FAS. They also emphasize the need for conducting a thorough history of prenatal alcohol exposure in children with intellectual deficits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Wechsler Scales


  • Ethanol