For professionals: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
Access detailed information on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) trends, risk factors, current initiatives, key publications and effective prevention approaches.
On this page
- What health professionals need to know about FASD
- Risk factors
- Key publications and reports
- For more information
What health professionals need to know about FASD
FASD is a diagnostic term describing the constellation of effects resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol is a known teratogen. It can harm the development of the brain and the rest of the central nervous system, resulting in disabilities that are:
- learning related
The diagnostic term FASD is now used to represent the continuum of symptoms resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure. Health professionals and their allies should become acquainted with FASD and its spectrum of manifestations.
FASD is recognized at birth if a newborn presents with the sentinel facial features associated with the condition, which are:
- thin upper lip
- smooth philtrum
- short palpebral fissures
However, the majority of people affected will not have these features. FASD is often not identified until children reach school age and begin to miss average behavioural and developmental milestones.
FASD is a differential diagnosis and is largely under-diagnosed. It may be mistaken for other disorders, such as:
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Other disorders are often comorbid with FASD. Therefore, it's important that practitioners understand the prevalence of alcohol use in pregnancy and screen for possible prenatal alcohol exposure.
Likewise, practitioners should discuss alcohol with all women of child-bearing age. Women who consume alcohol may be at risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy. Preventing alcohol use in pregnancy is the only way to prevent FASD.
Diagnosis is undertaken by a multidisciplinary team and includes:
- a full medical assessment, including:
- family history
- differential diagnosis
- physical examination
- maternal alcohol history
- a neurodevelopment assessment in 10 brain domains
- the measurement of sentinel facial features, including the:
- upper lip
- palpebral fissure length
FASD can affect any person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.
Screening for alcohol use among all women of child-bearing age can reduce FASD and other health problems resulting from alcohol use. Health care providers can access Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for further information.
The frequency and amount of alcohol use should be recorded in a woman's chart on a routine basis throughout their lifetime. This information should be transferred to appropriate health care providers and health records to ensure a continuum of care.
Key publications and reports
For health and allied professionals interested in more information about FASD, the following resources are key publications related to:
- Canadian Medical Association Journal:' Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: A Guideline for Diagnosis Across the Lifespan'
- Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres: National screening toolkit for those (0-18) identified and potentially affected by FASD
- Journal of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada: ‘Alcohol Use and Pregnancy Consensus Clinical Guidelines'
- Fetal alcohol syndrome epidemic on Manitoba reserve
- Incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome in northeastern Manitoba
- Foetal Alcohol Syndrome in Saskatchewan: Unchanged incidence in a 20-year period
- Incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome and prevalence of alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder
- American Academy of Pediatrics: ‘Prevalence and Characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders'
- Clinical profile and prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome in an isolated community in British Columbia
- Prevalence and epidemiologic characteristics of FASD from various research methods with an emphasis on recent in-school studies
- Report on the survey of children with chronic handicaps and fetal alcohol syndrome in the Yukon and Northwest British Columbia
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