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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

By Satya Vasan


  • FASD is an umbrella term that refers to the physical and psychological problems that affect children whose mothers consume alcohol during pregnancy.

  • There are four types of FASDs: FAS, ARND, ARBD, and NDPAE.

  • There are noticeable anatomical structural differences in the brains of children with and without FASDs.


What is FASD?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, known as FASDs for short, refer to the physical and behavioral problems that can affect children whose mothers drink during their pregnancy. To diagnose FASDs, providers look for central nervous problems, low weight and height measurements, and abnormal facial features. According to the CDC, there are common signs of FASDs: small head size, speech delays, attention difficulties, hyperactive behavior, a ridge between the nose and upper lip, sleeping problems, and sucking problems (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). However, FASDs are preventable! Mothers should not drink alcohol during pregnancy. It is also very important that mothers do not drink alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant and if they might be pregnant. The grave consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure can affect your children even during the earliest weeks of their development.


Types of FASDs

Remember, FASDs is an “umbrella term” to describe the range of conditions associated with fetal alcohol exposure. Each child will exhibit unique symptoms. We will be discussing 4 specific

FASDs diagnosis categories. Starting off, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) affects 0.2-1.5 infants for

every 1,000 live births. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). According to the CDC, FAS is known to cause problems with the central nervous system, communication, and memory and attention spans. FAS is also known for growth retardation and unique facial features. Additionally, Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) is characterized by problems with self-regulation and adaptation. Another type of FASDs is Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD) where children experience health concerns related to the heart, kidney, lungs, and bones. Lastly, NDPAE, Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Disorder is characterized by having problems in the following three areas: thinking and memory, behavior, and day to day living. When talking about thinking and memory, the child might have problems with remembering lessons, and planning. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). When looking at behavior the child might have mood issues, including severe tantrums. Day-to-Day troubles include bathing, dressing, and socializing with other children.


Impacts on the Brain

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, children with FASDs have reduced brain sizes. Children with FASDs also experience reductions in the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and the corpus callosum. Reductions in the basal ganglia can cause interference with one’s spatial memory. Reductions in the cerebellum can cause interference with balance and coordination. Reductions in the corpus callosum will cause issues with communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Even more troubling is that children with FASDs might even lack a corpus callosum (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). If we take a look at the image below, we can see the severe differences between the anatomical structure of the brain of a person with and without FASDs.



Overall, as September is National Drug and Alcohol awareness month we need to be mindful and observant of the grave consequences of what drinking alcohol can do to us and the people

we love. Please check out the following links to learn more about FASDs.

● From the CDC:

● From Georgetown University:

● From the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 5). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (fasds). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, February 4). Data & statistics. Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. (n.d.).


Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, January 10). Fetal alcohol syndrome. Mayo Clinic.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Fetal alcohol exposure and the brain -

ALCOHOL Alert No. 50. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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