Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Screening


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Screening

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Screening is an important test done to determine a baby’s risk of developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or other fetal alcohol-related disorders. The objective of FASD screening is to provide early assessment of prenatal exposure to alcohol so that appropriate interventions, management strategies and follow-up can be provided to affected individuals.


Before an FASD screening test, patients must know their medical history about the mother. The mother’s alcohol use or abuse during the pregnancy, as well as the type and amount of alcohol used, must be provided in order for the test to be properly performed. It is also important for the mother to be clear on why she is having the testing done and what the results mean for her pregnancy.


FASD screening involves both physical examination and laboratory testing of the baby. The physical examination looks for physical characteristics associated with FAS such as an unusually small head, facial abnormalities, stunted growth, and delayed motor development. Laboratory testing involves measuring the concentration of certain markers related to alcohol in the baby's system such as acetaldehyde, phosphatidylethanol, and ethyl glucuronide. Results of the tests can then be used to diagnose an FASD.


FASD is divided into several types depending on the severity of symptoms. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the most severe type and is characterized by a variety of physical birth defects as well as mental and behavioral problems. Partial FAS (pFAS) is another type and is slightly less severe than FAS. It is caused by only slight exposure to prenatal alcohol and may cause fewer physical abnormalities or mental or behavioral issues. Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) is the mildest type of FASD and involves mostly mental and behavioral problems without any significant physical effects.


The primary risk associated with FASD screening is the risk of a false positive result. Because some factors such as other substances or medications can lead to a false positive results, this is a potential risk that must be taken into consideration. The potential of false negatives is also a potential risk when it comes to FASD screening. If the mother does not provide accurate information regarding her alcohol use during the pregnancy, the results of the test may be incorrect.

Why Do FASD Screening?

Early diagnosis is important when it comes to FASDs as this can allow for early intervention and management strategies which can help improve the baby’s outcome. The purpose of FASD screening is to identify any potential issues related to prenatal exposure to alcohol so that these issues can be addressed quickly and appropriately.

When to Get FASD Screening?

FASD screening should generally be performed at birth or soon afterwards if there is any suspicion of alcohol use during the pregnancy. As Motherisk states, “The sooner FASD screening is done, the more accurate the results will be, so timing is important.” This is because alcohol markers in the baby’s system will decrease as time passes.