Fetal alcohol syndrome can cause behavioral, mental, and physical issues that continue into adulthood. Symptoms include behavioral and learning difficulties.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a form of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). It can occur if a fetus is exposed to alcohol in the womb.

FAS can cause learning and behavioral issues that last throughout a person’s life.

This article examines symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of FAS in adults.

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FAS is a type of FASD. FASDs are a range of conditions that occur if a fetus is exposed to alcohol before birth. Alcohol affects a fetus’s development.

FASDs can cause behavioral, mental, and physical symptoms in children, which can continue into adulthood. There is no cure for FASDs, but treatments can help manage symptoms.

FAS causes problems with the central nervous system and growth. It results in distinct facial features. People may have learning, attention, and communication difficulties.

Symptoms of FAS continue from childhood to adulthood and may include:

  • atypical facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
  • growth problems, such as delayed or stunted growth
  • problems with vision and hearing
  • behavioral problems, such as severe anger or irritable outbursts
  • poor memory
  • difficulty with learning and attention
  • communication problems

Some of these symptoms may have led to difficulty in school. These difficulties may persist into adulthood. They may cause someone to have difficulty finding or participating in work.

Some behavioral difficulties may cause a person difficulty getting along with others. This may put a strain on their personal and familial relationships.

A 2019 study with 37 participants with FASD found that restricted growth in height and head size continued into adulthood for people with FAS.

Other symptoms of FASD in adulthood affecting some of the study participants included:

Secondary conditions can develop as a result of a person having a FASD.

Secondary conditions that may link to FASDs include:

According to the United Kingdom’s National Organisation for FASD, the following health conditions may occur alongside FASD:

FASD may also affect other bodily systems and organs, such as the kidneys and liver.

For FAS in particular, people may have restricted growth, including height and head size. FAS also causes changes in facial features.

If someone suspects they may have FAS, they can contact a doctor and discuss their concerns.

If people have any evidence that they may have been exposed to alcohol in the womb, they can present that to a doctor. People can also share any difficulties they may have experienced in education.

There is no set test for diagnosing FAS. A doctor may refer a person for a neuropsychological assessment. This may consist of various tests to assess symptoms, such as cognitive function, attention, and memory.

A doctor may also look at physical health and signs of FAS, such as smaller-than-expected head size and height and abnormalities in facial features.

Treatment for FAS in adults may include:

  • medical care for any physical problems linked to FAS
  • mental health support, such as counseling or therapy, for any mental health conditions
  • medications to help manage symptoms, such as stimulants, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, or antipsychotic medications
  • alternative therapies, such as creative or relaxation therapies

Treatment may also include support for everyday living, such as:

  • creating positive environments in which people with FAS can thrive, such as slower-paced, quieter settings
  • getting involved in supportive, positive communities and activities that celebrate their strengths
  • joining a FAS support group to connect with people facing similar experiences
  • developing structure and regular routines

The only way to prevent FAS is to avoid consuming any amount of alcohol during pregnancy, including when a person is trying to become pregnant.

Certain preventive factors may help people avoid developing secondary conditions of FAS. These factors include:

  • getting a diagnosis in early childhood
  • receiving special education and support in school
  • getting any social services support
  • living in a loving, stable, and nurturing home environment
  • experiencing no violence in the home and community

FAS can occur if a fetus is exposed to alcohol in the womb. It can cause problems with learning, behavior, and mental and physical health.

FAS lasts throughout a person’s life. Adults with FAS may require additional support and services to help them manage symptoms.