Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms

Signs & Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Signs & Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome, known as FAS or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, is a spectrum of disorders that occur in babies who were exposed to alcohol in utero. Babies who are exposed to alcohol in utero can experience a number of complications, from physical and intellectual disabilities to developmental delays and severe health problems. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a spectrum due to the varying severity of symptoms experienced by individuals who have FAS. While there are no exact statistics to measure the number of babies and children who deal with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the CDC estimates that around 2 in every 1,000 babies born in the United States is on the spectrum for individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome. Some researchers estimate that this number could be much higher. There are a variety of signs and symptoms that individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome or a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may experience, and the Special Olympics Arizona team is breaking down these signs and symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

The signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome vary greatly among babies and children. One individual with fetal alcohol syndrome may have only a few mild symptoms, and another may have many symptoms that affect them with greater severity. The symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome can include both mental and physical difficulties and delays, which can affect individuals over time or change as time goes on. An individual with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may have noticeable changes to their face and limbs and delays in the way their body develops as they age and grow. They may also experience emotional and mental difficulties over time that can affect the way they learn, socialize, and work.

Physical Defects

Infants who are born with fetal alcohol syndrome can experience severe physical defects or less recognizable, more mild physical defects. These physical symptoms may include:

  • Abnormal facial features, including a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, a thin upper lip, and small eyes.
  • A low body weight.
  • Vision or hearing problems.
  • Problems with heart, kidneys, or bones.
  • Short height.
  • Small head size.
  • Difficulty sucking as an infant.

Social and Behavioral Problems

Babies and children with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder often have difficulties communicating or relating to their peers, and these may cause social and behavioral issues. These social and behavioral difficulties may include:

  • Poor social skills and delayed communication skills.
  • Difficulty in school due to learning disabilities and delayed cognitive development.
  • Trouble getting along with others.
  • Difficulty paying attention; issues with staying on task and focusing.
  • Trouble adapting to change and having difficulty switching from one task to another.
  • Poor concept of time.
  • Difficulty planning ahead and working towards a goal.

Neurological Issues

Some neurological issues may be recognizable early in children with fetal alcohol syndrome, while others may develop and become more recognizable over time. These symptoms may include:

  • Learning problems include delayed speech and language development, difficulty concentrating, a short attention span, and hyperactivity.
  • Coordination and balance problems.
  • Difficulty reasoning and telling the difference between reality and fantasy.
  • Poor short-term memory.
  • Poor judgment skills.
  • Low intelligence quotient.
  • Rapidly changing moods.

Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol in Infants

Symptoms and signs of fetal alcohol syndrome in infants may include:

  • Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip and small eyes.
  • A low body weight.
  • Short height.
  • Difficulties sleeping.
  • Difficulties sucking and feeding.
  • A small head size.
  • Vision or hearing problems.

How Early Can You Tell if Your Child Has FAS?

The signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in your infant may be difficult to notice, but if you sense that something may be wrong with your child, speaking to a doctor is always an excellent option. A healthcare provider may be able to diagnose your child with fetal alcohol syndrome at birth based on their small size and specific physical appearance. This diagnosis can be difficult, and it may not be made until childhood or adulthood, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Your child’s diagnosis depends on their symptoms and the severity of the syndrome, as well as your healthcare provider’s guidance.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms in Adults

Some individuals may go their entire childhood without being diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, but it is common for the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome to become more severe and difficult to deal with as an adult. Some common signs and symptoms of FAS in adults may include mental health difficulties and recognizable physical features.

Physical Signs & Symptoms of FAS in Adults

Many physical signs of fetal alcohol syndrome will be noticeable in childhood and persist into adulthood, but they may be less distinctive in adults than the symptoms are in children. The common physical signs of fetal alcohol syndrome in adults include:

  • Small head size and a reduced brain size.
  • A small stature.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Face in Adults

Adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders may have some recognizable facial features, including:

  • Small eyes.
  • An extremely thin upper lip.
  • A short, upturned nose.
  • A smooth skin surface in between the nose and upper lip.

Mental Health & Behavioral Struggles

90% of adults with fetal alcohol syndrome will experience some form of mental health difficulty in their adult lives. These issues include:

  • Attention, distraction, learning, and memory issues.
  • Difficulties with making decisions and planning.
  • Externalizing problems, especially displaying signs of anger and aggression.
  • Internalizing problems, especially issues with anxiety, social anxiety, and OCD-behaviors.
  • 44% of adults with FAS struggle with depression.
  • 40% of adults with FAS have psychotic symptoms.
  • 20% of adults with FAS have anxiety.
  • 20% of adults with FAS have bipolar disorder.
Special Olympics Arizona Back to Top