Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) include fetal alcohol syndrome and other conditions in which children have some, but not all of the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, such as alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).

Children who have none of the visible or physical symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can have central nervous system symptoms that are just as severe as those of children who have been diagnosed with all of the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Pregnant woman smoking a cigarette and drinking alcohol
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Symptoms of FASD

The symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can include facial abnormalities, growth deficiencies, skeletal deformities, organ deformities, central nervous system handicaps and behavioral problems in later life.

Here are some of the symptoms which can occur in children with prenatal exposure to alcohol:

Facial Abnormalities

  • Small head
  • Small eye openings
  • Webbing between eyes and base of the nose
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Failure of eyes to move in the same direction
  • Short, upturned nose
  • Flattened cheekbones
  • Sunken nasal bridge
  • Flat or absent groove between nose and upper lip (philtrum)
  • Smooth and thin upper lip
  • Opening in roof of the mouth
  • Small upper jaw
  • Low set or malformed ears

Growth Deficiencies

  • Small body size and weight
  • Slower than normal physical development
  • Failure to 'catch up' in growth

Skeletal Deformities

  • Deformed ribs and sternum
  • Curved spine
  • Caved-in chest wall
  • Bent, fused, webbed or missing fingers or toes
  • Extra fingers
  • Abnormal palm creases
  • Limited movement of joints
  • Hip dislocations
  • Small skull
  • Excessive hair
  • Underdeveloped fingernails or toenails

Organ Deformities

  • Heart defects
  • Heart murmurs
  • Incomplete development of brain structures
  • Umbilical or diaphragmatic hernia
  • Genital malformations
  • Kidney or urinary defects

Central Nervous System Handicaps

  • Small brain size
  • Faulty arrangement of brain cells and tissue
  • Mild to severe mental retardation
  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor memory
  • Lack of imagination or curiosity
  • Poor language skills
  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Short attention span
  • Poor coordination
  • Irritability in infancy
  • Hyperactivity in childhood
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep and sucking disturbances in infancy

Behavioral Problems

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Social withdrawal
  • Stubbornness
  • Impulsiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Problems with daily living
  • Psychiatric problems
  • Criminal behavior
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Incomplete education
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Poor parenting skills

Help for Children With FASD

The above symptoms and conditions can have life-long implications for children who were exposed to alcohol in the womb. However, there is help for even those the most severely affected by their mother's drinking.

Getting early intervention to identify these disorders can help ensure a child gets the services and therapy they need for the best outcomes.

Research has shown that FASD children who receive special education and adequate social services are more likely to reach their developmental and educational potential than those who do not receive those services.

A loving, nurturing and stable home life, without disruptions, harmful relationships or transient lifestyles, has also been shown to benefit children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Those who live in abusive, unstable or violent environments are more likely to develop later behavioral problems.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hoyme HE, Kalberg WO, Elliott AJ, et al. Updated clinical guidelines for diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2016;138(2). doi:10.1542/peds.2015-4256

  2. Masotti P, Longstaffe S, Gammon H, Isbister J, Maxwell B, Hanlon-Dearman A. Integrating care for individuals with FASD: results from a multi-stakeholder symposiumBMC Health Serv Res. 2015;15:457. doi:10.1186/s12913-015-1113-8

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics about FASDs.

Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.