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Foetal Alcohol syndrome (FAS)

Foetal (Fetal: Alternative spelling) alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a birth defect that is the result of maternal drinking of alcoholic beverages during the pregnancy.

It is a preventable birth defect in that pregnant women who avoid consuming alcohol can prevent this particular birth defect from occurring.

All foetuses of pregnant women who drink alcohol while pregnant are at risk for foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

The effects of FAS are irreversible and can include mental and behavioural problems.

There are as many as 40,000 (1/750) babies born each year in the United States who are diagnosed with FAS.

Symptoms of FAS:

fasThis birth defect manifests itself in a cluster of different but related problems due to the exposure to alcohol during foetal development. The cluster of problems may be referred to as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

Foetal alcohol syndrome is a leading cause of mental retardation and yet it is preventable and to this day is still ranking the most prevalent cause of mental retardation - a truly dismaying statement.


Small eyes, very thin upper lip and a short turned up nose

Heart defects

Deformity of joints, limbs and fingers

Delayed physical growth before birth and after birth

Vision difficulties

Hearing difficulties

Small head circumference

Small brain size (microcephaly)

Mental retardation

Delayed development

Short attention span


Poor impulse control

Extreme nervousness and anxiety

Physicians may use other terms to describe the symptoms of FAS such as: Alcohol-related neuro-developmental disorder (ARND) which refers to the mental and behavioural impairments experienced as a result of exposure to alcohol during foetal development and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBDs) which refer to the physical defects that occur as a result of FAS.

What causes FAS?

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it enters her bloodstream, crosses over through the placenta into the baby's bloodstream.

The unborn baby has a much slower metabolism than its mother and thus the alcohol concentrations are higher.

The alcohol will impair the optimal nutrition for the baby's developing tissues and organs and can even damage brain cells. The risk increases the more alcohol the mother consumes.

Impairment to the developing baby includes facial features, organs including the heart, bones, the central nervous system and the brain.

The most damage can be done during the first trimester when some women may not even know that they are pregnant. Brain damage can be done at any stage of pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to birth defects and it can cause miscarriage. Women who can conceive, suspect they may be pregnant or are pregnant should not consume any alcohol.

The more alcohol consumed the higher the risk for birth defects.
FAS Factsheet