Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Over 400 Co-Occurring Conditions

By BruceBlaus (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The research team at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have discovered 428 distinct disease conditions that co-occur in individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. This most recent study is the most comprehensive of its kind.

The Study

The results of the study done by CAMH were published in The Lancet.

Dr. Lana Popova, Senior Scientist in Social and Epidemiological Research at CAMH and lead study author said, “We’ve systematically identified numerous disease conditions co-occurring with FASD, which underscores the fact that it isn’t always safe to drink any amount of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy, despite the conflicting messages the public may hear. Alcohol can affect any organ or system in a developing fetus.”

FASD is a broad term which describes the range of disabilities that may happen in people as a result of exposure to alcohol before birth. The severity and symptoms will vary, based on how much and when alcohol was consumed, as well as other factors in the mother’s life such as nutrition, stress levels, environmental influences. The effects of alcohol can also be influenced by certain genetic factors and the body’s ability to break down alcohol, in both the mother and infant.

Different Canadian surveys suggest between 6 and 14 percent of women who consume alcohol during pregnancy.

The 428 co-occurring conditions were identified from 127 studies included in The Lancet review. These conditions, coded in the International Classifications of Disease (ICD-10), affected almost every system in the body including, the central nervous system, brain, vision, respiratory system, cardiac, circulatory, digestion and musculoskeletal systems.

Some of these conditions are known to be the result of alcohol-exposure, such as developmental and cognitive problems, and certain facial abnormalities. For other conditions, the association between fetal alcohol spectrum disorders does not necessarily represent a cause-and-effect link.

Problems Associated With FASD

Many disorders occurred more often among those with FASD, than with the general population. Based on 33 different studies representing 1,728 individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe form of FASD, the team was able to conduct a series of meta-analyses to discover the regularity with which 183 diseases happened.

More than 90 percent of those with FASD had co-occurring problems with conduct. Approximately eight in 10 had communication issues, related to either understanding or expressing language. Seven in 10 had developmental or cognitive disorders and more than half experienced issues with attention and hyperactivity.


It is important to improve the screening and diagnosing criteria of FASD, because it has numerous benefits. Earlier access to programs and resources could prevent or reduce secondary outcomes that can happen to people with FASD, such as problems with employment, mental health, relationships, schooling and legally.

Dr. Popova said, “We can prevent these issues at many stages. Eliminating alcohol consumption during pregnancy or reducing it among alcohol-dependent women is extremely important. Newborns should be screened for prenatal alcohol exposure, especially among populations at high risk. And alerting clinicians to these co-occurring conditions should trigger questions about prenatal alcohol exposure.”


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