Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), mild to severe mental and physical damage to the fetus (the unborn child in the motherís uterus) caused by the motherís use of alcohol during pregnancy. FAS affects about 1 to 3 in every 1,000 live births worldwide, and is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the Western world. French researchers at the University of Nantes in 1968 were the first to make a connection between maternal use of alcohol during pregnancy and birth defects in children. Five years later, American geneticists at the University of Washington in Seattle termed this condition fetal alcohol syndrome.
Children with FAS are small in size and weight at birth and have slow growth rates throughout their development. A child with FAS has characteristic facial features that may include short eye slits, a flattened midface, a smooth and elongated space between the nose and mouth, and a narrow upper lip. Children diagnosed with FAS show evidence of damage to the central nervous system that may be in the form of mental retardation, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, seizures, or small head size. A child with FAS may develop visual and hearing problems, heart defects and other physical problems, and behavioral problems.
Researchers have found that some individuals who were exposed to alcohol during fetal development show only some of the characteristics of FAS. These individuals are described as having fetal alcohol effects (FAE). However, both FAS and FAE individuals may have some degree of brain damage.