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How is fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosed?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is diagnosed based on the presence of a combination of signs in the infant. There is no medical or blood test to diagnose FAS. The diagnosis of FAS is based on the presence of a combination of the following findings:

  • Abnormal facial features: smooth ridge between nose and upper lip, thin upper lip and short distance between the inner and outer corners of the eyes
  • Growth deficits: lower-than-average height, weight, or both and post-natal growth that is lower than expected.
  • Central nervous system problems that are
    • Structural: small head changes in brain structure
    • Neurologic: poor coordination, poor muscle control
    • Functional: cognitive deficits, learning disabilities, poor organization skills, lack of inhibition, motor function delays, poor social skills.
  • Prenatal alcohol exposure; although confirmation is not required to make a diagnosis

Diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) can be hard because there is no medical test, like a blood test, for it. And other disorders, such as ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and Williams syndrome, have some symptoms like FAS. To diagnose FAS, doctors look for:

  • Abnormal facial features (e.g., smooth ridge between nose and upper lip)
  • Lower-than-average height, weight or both
  • Central nervous system problems (e.g., small head size, problems with attention and hyperactivity, poor coordination)
  • Prenatal alcohol exposure; although confirmation is not required to make a diagnosis

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.