URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorders-fasd-screening/

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Screening

What is a fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) screening?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) is the term used to describe a group of conditions that can happen to a child whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes through the placenta, the organ that nourishes an unborn baby in the uterus. There is no amount of alcohol that's known to be safe to drink during pregnancy. If you are or think you may be pregnant, you should not drink alcohol. That includes hard liquor, beer, and wine. An unborn baby's exposure to alcohol can lead to lifelong physical, emotional, and behavioral problems.

The term FASDs includes all of the following conditions:

  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). This condition can affect organ development. People with ARBD may have problems with the function of their heart, kidneys, hearing, vision, and/or bones. They may also have other types of FASDs.
  • Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE). People with this condition can have problems with mental health, memory, communication, impulse control, and skills of daily living.
  • Alcohol-related Neurodevelopment Disorder (ARND). People with ARND have problems with the brain and nervous system. It can cause intellectual disabilities, and/or behavioral and learning problems.
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This is the most severe type of FASD. It causes both birth defects and neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS). People with pFAS have some of the symptoms of an FASD. But the condition is not as severe as the other disorders.

Other names: fetal alcohol syndrome screening, fetal alcohol 4-digit diagnostic code

What is it used for?

The screening is used to find out if a child has an FASD. There is no cure for FASDs, but early diagnosis and treatment may help reduce some of the symptoms and help children reach their full potential.

Why does my child need an FASDs screening?

A screening may be needed if you drank alcohol during your pregnancy and/or your child has symptoms of an FASD. Symptoms may include a mix of physical problems, intellectual disabilities, and problems coping with daily living. They can range from mild to severe and will vary depending on the child's age. Symptoms of FASDs may include a combination of the following:

  • Abnormal facial features. These include small eyes, a thin upper lip, and a smooth skin surface between the nose and upper lip.
  • Lower than average height and weight
  • Poor coordination
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Intellectual disability
  • Delayed development
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor social skills

What happens during an FASDs screening?

There is no single test for FASDs. But your provider may:

  • Check for intellectual disabilities and developmental delays
  • Look for certain physical features such as a small head, small eyes, and thin upper lip
  • See if the child's weight and height are below normal
  • Look for behavioral symptoms such as short attention span and problems with impulse control
  • Check the child's coordination, vision, and hearing
Some providers may also use a method called the 4-digit code to help diagnose FASDs. The code gives a numeric value based on the following physical characteristics:

  • Short palpebral fissure, the opening between the eye and eyelid
  • Smooth philtrum, the ridge between the nose and upper lip
  • Thin upper lip
  • Lower than normal height and weight

Will my child need to do anything to prepare for this test?

There are no special preparations needed for an FASD screening.

Are there any risks to this test?

There are no risks to having an FASDs screening.

What do the results mean?

If your child is diagnosed with an FASD, your provider may recommend several treatment options. There is no cure for these disorders, but the following may greatly improve a child's development and quality of life:

  • Working with a team of providers that can include a special education teacher, speech therapist, physical and occupational therapists, and mental health professionals
  • Special services in school to help with learning and behavior difficulties
  • Behavior modification therapy
  • Mental health therapy
  • Social skill training
  • Vocational and life skill therapy
  • Medicines to help with some symptoms

Is there anything else I need to know about an FASDs screening?

If you're the mother of a child with an FASD and think you have a problem with alcohol use, talk to your health care provider. Your provider can recommend counseling and treatment programs. Treatment may help you become a better parent and prevent future pregnancies from being affected.


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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.