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Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Written by: Antony Chiromba & Dr Ndumiso Tshuma

What is FASD?


Foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) refers to conditions that can be caused in a child when the mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. The problems that can be caused in children a different from one child to another. The problems caused can include brain damage, growth and behavioural problems. The term FAS is not used as a clinical diagnosis since it refers to the whole group of conditions, a child would have to be diagnosed with a specific alcohol related disorder by a doctor.


What causes FAS?


FAS is caused by drinking during pregnancy. The more alcohol a woman drinks during pregnancy, the greater number of problems in the baby. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol the following happens:

1. Alcohol in the mother’s blood reaches the child by crossing the placenta

2. The child gets a high alcohol concentration because their body removes the alcohol slowly

3. The alcohol disturbs the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby

4. The exposure to alcohol ends up harming the growth of body organs and causing permanent brain damage.

What are the signs and symptoms of FAS?

Because FAS refers to a group of alcohol related conditions, the signs and symptoms are varied from one child to another. The most common signs and symptoms include:

1. Sleep and sucking problems as a baby

2. Delayed speech and language skills

3. Abnormal facial features

4. Small head size

5. Short height for their age

6. Low body weight

7. Poor coordination

8. Behavioural problems, for example hyperactive behaviour and attention difficulties

9. Learning problems, poor memory and difficulty in school (especially with math)

10. Vision or hearing problems

11. Problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones


What treatment is there for FAS?


Unfortunately, there is no treatment for FAS and the condition lasts a lifetime. However, early diagnosis of FAS helps with some of the problems and improve the child’s growth and development.


How is FASD prevented?


Prevention is very simple. Help women avoid drinking alcohol if:

1. they are pregnant

2. they think they are pregnant

3. they are trying to get pregnant

Where can one get help if I think my child has FAS?

Visit your nearest clinic or hospital for assistance in evaluating the child. If they cannot, they will refer you to a specialist who can assist. Remember, for a child to reach their full potential it is essential to get help as early as possible if you suspect your child has FASD.

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