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A brief overview of fetal alcohol syndrome for health professionals

12 August 2021
7 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 15
Figure 2. Facial characteristics that may be seen in FASD
Figure 2. Facial characteristics that may be seen in FASD


Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are caused by prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). They cause epigenetic changes, permanent neurodevelopmental deficits, and anomalies in growth and facial structure. This article enforces the need for health and social care professionals to have a greater understanding and awareness of how FAS and FASD may impact on the individual, the family and the community, to enable them to provide the most effective preventive and supportive care possible.

Alcohol is widely used in society despite concerns that it can cause physical, social, mental and economic harms (NHS Digital, 2019; NHS website, 2021). Alcoholic beverages contain different percentages of ethanol, all of which are teratogenic. One form of long-lasting damage that can be caused by alcohol is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), part of the umbrella term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) (British Medical Association (BMA), 2007a; National Institute or Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2019). FAS affects individuals and families in a variety of ways, causing neurological (Lamb et al, 2019), social (Lees at al, 2021) and physical complications (May et al, 2015), and it is important to raise awareness, consider preventive strategies and the possibility of mitigating further damage (Stade et al, 2009). However, the prevalence of FASDs is difficult to determine (Schölin et al, 2021a).

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