Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders include several classifications of permanent birth defects caused by a mother's consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome is just one of many conditions included within the spectrum, which also includes fetal alcohol effect, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder and others.

Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders vary greatly by individual. The diagnosis of this spectrum disorder is defined specifically across the board, but the individual diagnosis within the spectrum is sometimes disputed among professionals, due to the similarity in defining characteristics. Following is a list of symptoms that may indicate one or more diagnoses within the fetal alcohol spectrum:

  • Low birth weight, and below average height and weight during infancy
  • Physical deformity of features, such as flattening of the philtrum (the space between the nose and upper lip), thinning of the upper lip and shortening of the eye-width
  • Microcephaly (small head circumference)
  • Brain abnormalities
  • Central nervous system damage, expressed through seizures, impaired motor skills, hearing loss, clumsiness or sensory problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cognitive problems


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are caused by the fetus' exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. There are several levels of risk of this syndrome, with the highest pertaining to a minimum of weekly consumption of alcohol. The amount of alcohol consumed, frequency and timing of use can all severely impact features of this syndrome. It is unknown what level of alcohol becomes toxic to a fetus, but it has been determined that any amount of exposure can lead to developmental problems.

Diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

It's important to seek possible diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, if alcohol may have been consumed during pregnancy, and a child is experiencing any number of behavioral or physical problems. Often, symptoms can resemble those of other disorders and conditions, but if fetal alcohol spectrum is pinpointed early, intervention and treatments can lead to a very positive outcome. Evaluations may be performed by many professionals, including geneticists, developmental pediatricians, neurologists, doctors who specialize in birth defects, psychologists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. Tests will likely include a complete physical exam of the child and interviews with the parents, friends and other relatives. Other evaluations likely to take place are an examination of the facial structure, an IQ test, and specialized assessments in many different areas, depending upon the type and severity of symptoms.

Treatment of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

There is no cure for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and this condition will likely affect patients for a lifetime. Many treatment options are available, some being more appropriate for those children or adults with severe symptoms. All options should be considered and discussed with a professional.

  • Medication - while there is no particular drug that can influence fetal alcohol spectrum disorders directly, many symptoms caused by the condition can be alleviated with proper medical treatment. Any prescription recommended will be aimed at preventing certain types of symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, etc.
  • Social services - many different professional services are available both for child and adult patients, as well as parents dealing with this diagnosis. Parental education can be beneficial, as well as educational support, home safety instruction, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy and psychotherapy.
  • Alternative medicine - research has proven the efficacy of many different types of alternative medicine involving many different symptoms and diagnoses. It may be beneficial to research alternative methods of healing, such as by implementing dietary changes, including herbs and vitamins in the daily routine, participating in yoga or tai chi, exploring acupuncture or discovering homeopathy. Since these methods are natural and involve few or no side effects, they can be combined with other, more traditional methods with varying results.