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Information on FASD

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a permanent birth defect

syndrome caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. The definition of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has changed little since the 1970's when the condition was first described and refined. The condition has been broadly characterized by pre- and/or postnatal growth deficiency, a characteristic set of minor facial anomalies, and evidence of prenatal alteration in brain function such as microcephaly from birth, neurologic problems without postnatal antecedents, or complex patterns of functional disability." (Sterling K. Clarren, M.D. and Susan J. Astley, Ph.D., Diagnostic Guide for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Related Conditions, 1997)

FASD is the leading known-and the only 100 percent preventable

-cause of mental retardation. (Fetal alcohol effects (FAE) is similar to FASD, but without the physical symptoms. While it is often assumed FAE is less severe than FASD, this is not the case.) The neurological abnormalities, delays in development, intellectual impairments and learning/behavior disabilities that accompany FAE are similar, and sometimes more severe, than with FASD. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy destroys growing and developing cells in the fetus, causing permanent malformations to the brain.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Impaired growth before and after birth
  • Facial malformations
  • Small head size
  • Learning disabilities and lower IQ
  • Hyperactivity and the inability to pay attention
  • Sleeping problems
  • Organ damage

Four primary diagnostic criteria indicate Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders:

  • Growth deficiencies -stunted prenatal and/or postnatal growth.

  • Permanent brain damage resulting in neurological abnormalities, delay in development, intellectual impairment and learning/behavior disabilities.

  • Abnormal facial features including short eye opening, short nose, flat midface, thin upper lip and small chin.

  • Maternal alcohol use during pregnancy. The window of exposure for alcohol is the entire 9 months of pregnancy. Whatever is developing, at the time of exposure to the fetus, can be affected.

Ten Things You should know about FASD:

1. Drinking during pregnancy can cause permanent damage to a developing fetus.

2. FASD is one of the most common causes of mental retardation, and is the only cause that is entirely preventable.

3. According to recent State of Alaska DHSS surveillance data, more than 126 children are born at risk for FASD each year in Alaska.

4. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause brain damage and other permanent birth defects.

5. Obtaining an FASD diagnosis can improve an individual’s ability to function in the world, and may reduce secondary disabilities like depression and school failure.

6. FASD is found in all races and all socio-economic groups – wherever women drink alcohol FASD exists.

7. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

8. Women should stop drinking prior to trying to conceive – alcohol can cause damage to a developing fetus even before a woman knows she is pregnant.

9. FASD is 100 percent preventable.

10. With the right diagnosis, support and understanding, many individuals with FASD are living happy and full lives.