Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you report the timing and amount of alcohol consumption, your obstetrician or other health care provider can help determine the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. Although doctors can't diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome before a baby is born, they can assess the health of the mother and baby during pregnancy.

Your child's doctor can watch for signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in your child's initial weeks, months and years of life. Early diagnosis and provision of services can help improve your child's ability to function.

Diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome requires expertise and a thorough assessment. To make a diagnosis, doctors assess:

  • The occurrence of drinking during the pregnancy
  • Physical appearance and distinguishing features
  • Physical growth and development
  • Brain growth and development

The doctor may also assess:

  • Cognitive ability and learning and language development difficulties
  • Health issues
  • Social and behavior problems

Many features seen with fetal alcohol syndrome may also occur in normal, healthy children or in children with other disorders. If fetal alcohol syndrome is suspected, your pediatrician may refer your child to a developmental pediatrician, a neurologist or another expert with special training in fetal alcohol syndrome for evaluation and to rule out other disorders with similar signs and symptoms.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

The range of consequences from drinking alcohol during pregnancy are collectively called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, as not all signs and symptoms are present in all children with the disorder. This range includes:

  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder — intellectual disabilities or behavioral and learning problems caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy
  • Alcohol-related birth defects — physical defects caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome — the severe end of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which includes both neurodevelopmental disorder and birth defects caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome — presence of some of the signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, but the criteria for the diagnosis are not met

If one child in a family is diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, it may be important to evaluate his or her siblings to determine whether they also have fetal alcohol syndrome, if the mother drank alcohol during these pregnancies.

Jun. 02, 2014

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