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Fetal Alcohol Exposure: Consequences, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Pruett, Dawn MA*; Waterman, Emily Hubbard MD, MPH; Caughey, Aaron B. MD, PhD

Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey: January 2013 - Volume 68 - Issue 1 - p 62–69
doi: 10.1097/OGX.0b013e31827f238f
CME Review Article: Fetal Alcohol Exposure

Maternal alcohol use during pregnancy is prevalent, with as many as 12% of pregnant women consuming alcohol. Alcohol intake may vary from an occasional drink, to weekly binge drinking, to chronic alcohol use throughout pregnancy. Whereas there are certain known consequences from fetal alcohol exposure, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, other effects are less well defined. Craniofacial dysmorphologies, abnormalities of organ systems, behavioral and intellectual deficits, and fetal death have all been attributed to maternal alcohol consumption. This review article considers the theoretical mechanisms of how alcohol affects the fetus, including the variable susceptibility to fetal alcohol exposure and the implications of ethanol dose and timing of exposure. Criteria for diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome are discussed, as well as new methods for early detection of maternal alcohol use and fetal alcohol exposure, such as the use of fatty acid ethyl esters. Finally, current and novel treatment strategies, both in utero and post utero, are reviewed.

Target Audience: Obstetricians and gynecologists, family physicians

Learning Objectives: After completing this CME activity, physicians should be better able to diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome and other fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, understand the mechanisms by which alcohol damages the fetus, identify the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on the fetus, and outline treatment options available for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

*Medical Student, School of Medicine, †Resident, Department of Family Medicine; and ‡Professor and Chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Oregon Health and Science University; Portland, OR

All authors and staff in a position to control the content of this CME activity and their spouses/life partners (if any) have disclosed that they have no financial relationships with, or financial interests in, any commercial organizations pertaining to this educational activity.

Correspondence requests to: Dawn Pruett, MA, School of Medicine, OHSU, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Rd, Portland, OR 97239. E-mail:

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.