Guideline for the diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome

New guideline for the diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome presented

With between 2,000 and 4,000 newborns affected each year, fetal alcohol syndrome is the most common congenital disability in Germany, reports the Federal Government's Drugs Commissioner. A new guideline should now make the diagnosis of alcohol damage in children significantly easier.

The German government's drug commissioner, Mechthild Dyckmans (FDP), when presenting the new guideline for diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome in Berlin, explained that it was "an important step" to give children with alcohol problems the help they need to master their lives "The FAS guideline creates the prerequisites for an early diagnosis, which enables the affected families, who are often foster and adoptive families, to adjust their everyday lives to the particularities of the child from the start and to organize appropriate help," added the Federal Drugs Commissioner. Pediatricians, psychologists and therapists could also adjust their support measures accordingly in order to keep the negative consequences of FAS as low as possible.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most common congenital disability
Fetal alcohol syndrome "is not curable, but the consequences can be considerably mitigated by early treatment", explains the Federal Drugs Commissioner, explaining the advantages of early diagnosis. The FAS is the result of mother's alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The affected children suffer brain damage, which manifests itself “typically through reduced growth and changes in the face and central nervous system,” according to the federal drug commissioner. Other developmental disorders, cognitive deficits and behavioral problems are often observed. The psychologist Mirjam Landgraf from the University of Munich Clinic, co-author of the FAS guidelines, added that the babies affected are often too small and too light, that the groove between the nose and upper lip is often missing and that their upper lip often appears particularly narrow. However, the disorders of the central nervous system in children with FAS are more serious than these externally recognizable characteristics. For example, they lead to reduced intelligence, problems with language or the ability to learn and remember, reports the expert.

It is imperative to avoid alcohol during pregnancy
In addition to the mentioned impairments of FAS, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause a variety of other disorders in children, which also have a significant impact on the later development of those affected, explained Prof. Florian Heinen from the University of Munich Clinic, co-author of the guideline the affected person is ten to twenty times higher than the number of FAS patients. Like FAS, these disorders can be completely avoided by not using alcohol during pregnancy. Since it is not clear from which amount of alcohol harms the unborn child, Prof. Heinen advises to completely refrain from pregnancy and emphasized that regarding fetal alcohol syndrome this is "really the disability that we can prevent 100 percent."

Milestone in the diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome
Although the new guideline does not contribute to the prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome, it does provide families and doctors with important guidance in diagnosing FAS. If the impairments of children have often not been recognized for a long time and those affected are labeled as lazy or unwilling to learn, there is hope for significant improvements in the future. The federal drug commissioner also said that the new guideline would make it easier for the responsible youth and welfare offices to determine the children's development-related performance needs. In addition, daycare centers and schools are better able to adapt to the children if they are diagnosed. Overall, the introduction of the new guideline was rated extremely positively by all sides, the patient representative FASD Germany even spoke of a “milestone” on the path of FAS diagnostics. (fp)

Also read:
Alcohol harms 10,000 children every year
Pregnancy: alcohol causes nerve damage

Image: Sonja Gräber /

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Video: What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

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