A healthy lifestyle for the mother throughout her pregnancy is essential to ensure the proper development of the fetus and good quality health for the baby. Therefore, certain toxic habits such as alcohol and tobacco can cause serious complications in the baby’s growth.

In the case of alcoholic habits or behavior, the consumption of this type of drink can have serious consequences such as fetal alcohol syndrome . Throughout this article, we will discuss the characteristics and symptoms of this, as well as its diagnosis and possible treatment.

What is fetal alcohol syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition that is categorized as a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) . The spectrum refers to a group of diseases or conditions that can occur when the mother consumed certain amounts of alcohol during pregnancy, resulting in a range of physical and mental consequences for the baby.

These disorders are characterised by a series of physical, mental, behavioural and cognitive abnormalities in those babies who suffer from them , as the alcohol consumed by the mother is transferred to the child’s bloodstream.

In the specific case of fetal alcohol syndrome, it is considered to be the most serious or harmful condition within the entire spectrum of impairments or anomalies caused by exposure to alcohol during the fetal developmental stage, regardless of fetal death from alcoholism itself.

Babies diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome usually have a series of pathological physical features such as deformation of facial features , growth disturbances or problems in the development of the central nervous system.

These irregularities in the fetal growth process have as their main psychological consequence the appearance of learning difficulties and alterations in the processes of memory, communication capacity, attention, as well as sensory difficulties at the visual or auditory level. The alterations also imply a risk of social exclusion for these children, since school and integration problems are usually common.

As for the incidence of this syndrome, the exposure of the foetus to certain levels of alcohol is the main cause of intellectual functional diversity in developed countries , far beyond genetic alterations.

What symptoms do you have?

As described above, fetal alcohol syndrome is distinguished by a number of symptoms, both physical or visible, and organic or related to the neurological development of the baby .

The clinical picture of PAS is classified into three different symptom groups. Those related to craniofacial anomalies, alterations in the central nervous system and a delay in general development.

1. Craniofacial anomalies

There are a number of physical characteristics that distinguish children with a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome. These are:

  • Flat nasal filter or flattening of the space between the nose and the upper lip
  • Narrowing of the upper lip.
  • Decrease in size of palpebral slits or abnormally small eyes .

2. Central nervous system disorders

Problems or abnormalities in the development of the central nervous system can manifest themselves to varying degrees, depending on the amount of alcohol to which the fetus has been exposed. These damages can be divided into three different planes:

  • Alterations in the formation of the anatomical structure , usually expressed in the form of microcephalies or in irregularities in the formation of different brain areas.
  • Pathologies associated with neurological functioning such as seizures and spasms, coordination problems or sensory difficulties such as visual and hearing difficulties.
  • Alterations in intellectual functioning manifested in the form of behavioural disorders, problems of self-control, problems of attention and hyperactivity, intellectual functional diversity, lack of social skills, memory problems, etc.

3. Widespread developmental delay

It manifests itself in the form of pathologies related to the baby’s weight and size. These tend to be below the average of healthy born children.

What causes it?

The main and only cause of fetal alcohol syndrome is found in the mother’s consumption of alcohol throughout pregnancy. The alcohol present in drinks can pass into the bloodstream of the fetus through the placenta, causing all kinds of interference and alterations in the development of the fetus.

Although it has not yet been possible to reliably establish from what level of consumption the first symptoms appear, it has been determined that the greater the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother, the greater the number of symptoms, and the more serious they will be for the baby.

In the same way, the stage of pregnancy at which consumption occurs is also decisive , since consuming alcoholic beverages throughout the first trimester is even more dangerous than doing so at any other stage.

How can it be diagnosed?

In cases where the medical professional suspects the possibility of a fetal alcohol syndrome, there are a number of tests that can be performed to confirm the diagnosis :

  • Evaluation of the heart’s condition that reveals a heart abnormality.
  • Testing the mother’s blood alcohol levels, whenever she shows signs of intoxication.
  • Neuroimaging tests such as CT scans or MRIs after the baby is born
  • Ultrasound tests during pregnancy .

Is there a treatment?

Because the injuries caused to the baby are permanent and irreversible, no treatment has been developed that would reverse these symptoms. However, the prognosis or intensity of treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms.

As a result, the intervention protocol is usually limited to the treatment of those cognitive symptoms such as inattention or special educational needs, in order to facilitate the child’s school and social adjustment and, as a consequence, improve their quality of life as much as possible.