The Neurodevelopmental Consequences of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Elizabeth Welch-Carre, RN, MSN, NNP


Adv Neonatal Care. 2005;5(4):217-229. 

In This Article

Definition of Terms

The term fetal alcohol syndrome first appeared in Lancet in 1973.[2] It was used to describe a combination of abnormalities that included craniofacial, extremity, and cardiovascular anomalies, as well as growth deficits and developmental delays in 8 unrelated children born to alcoholic mothers.[2] Further research revealed that not all children with PAE develop the physical characteristics of FAS. By 1978, the term fetal alcohol effects (FAE) was commonly used to describe children who had some, but not all, of the characteristics of FAS. Table 1 provides an overview of key terms related to FAS.[1]

In 1996, the Institute of Medicine created a 5-category classification system for individuals exposed to alcohol in utero.[15] This classification system added the terms partial FAS (PFAS), ARBD, and ARND, to describe those children who did not precisely fit the FAS category, but had deficits or disabilities that could be linked to PAE.[15]

Recently, the term fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) has been used to include all categories of PAE, including FAS; however, FASD is not intended to serve as a clinical diagnosis.[15,16] A diagnosis of FAE, ARND, PFAS, or ARBD does not preclude significant organ damage, often to the brain, equal in severity to the damage seen in the individual with full-blown FAS.[17,18,19,20]


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