Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

  • People with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), the most severe end of the FASD spectrum, often have abnormal facial features, and/or growth and central nervous system problems. A characteristic pattern of facial anomalies associated with FAS include, small eye openings, a thin upper lip or flattened ridges between the base of the nose and the upper lip (a flattened philtrum). A child must have all three characteristics to receive an FAS diagnosis.

  • Microcephaly, or an abnormally small brain, is the most serious FASD characteristic, resulting in delayed alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND). People with ARND have intellectual disabilities and problems with behavior and learning; tend to do poorly in school; have difficulties with math, memory, attention and judgment; and display poor impulse control. Smaller-than-normal head circumference at or below the 10th percentile is one diagnostic criteria for ARND.

  • Many children with FASDs have strabismus, microphthalmia and/or short eye openings known as palpebral fissures. They may also experience refractive vision problems associated with smaller head size.

  • People with alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD) often have problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones or with hearing. Currently, there is no one test to diagnose FASDs, and many other disorders can have similar symptoms, but the CDC is working to develop better diagnostic criteria.

  • All children with FASDs have low birth weight, defined as at or below the 10th percentile. Growth problems can occur before birth and some may resolve before the child is even born.

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Alcohol use among women of childbearing age (18 to 44 years) is a leading, preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the U.S., known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). The CDC estimates that approximately 0.2 to 1.5 cases occur for every 1,000 live births in certain areas of the United States.

FASDs are a group of conditions that may include physical, behavioral and learning problems that can range from mild to severe.

There are three types of FASDs: fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). Learn more about what distinguishes these FASDs with this slideshow.

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