Pediatricians must be circumspect in detecting fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in their patients, because early diagnosis, followed by early intervention, can make a world of difference.

FAS, a potential aftermath of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, remains one of the chief causes of mental retardation, birth defects and behavioral problems; yet it is one of the most frequently missed diagnoses in early childhood.

Ira J. Chasnoff, M.D., FAAP, president of the Children's Research Triangle and professor of pediatrics, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago, has written several books on FAS. He recalled twin girls whose mother used alcohol heavily during pregnancy. The mother had no prenatal care, and the girls were not seen until they were 18 moths old, when they arrived in the emergency room, having been brutally beaten.

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