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Objective: The diagnoses included within the umbrella term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), are based on the documentation of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE), growth deficits and a pattern of dysmorphic physical features and neurobehavioral impairments. Although 3 key facial features (short palpebral fissures, a smooth philtrum and a thin vermilion of the upper lip) are the only dysmorphic features taken into account for the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or partial FAS (pFAS), several other features are commonly seen in individuals with these diagnoses. The goals of our study were to determine if some of these secondary physical features also occur more frequently in children with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) relative to controls, and if a cluster of these features combined in a dysmorphology score could be used to identify those negatively impacted by PAE but who do not have the cardinal physical features that led to a diagnosis of FAS or pFAS. Methods: Among 2681 children recruited for the Collaboration on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Prevalence (CoFASP) study, 1726 had an FASD or sufficient evidence of PAE having occurred or not in their pregnancy. Children were then categorized into groups using the modified Hoyme diagnostic criteria (FAS (n = 24), pFAS (n = 99) and ARND (n = 87), and No FASD (n = 1516), including those with No FASD and a history of PAE (No FASD/PAE, n = 498) and those with No FASD and no history of PAE (No FASD/No PAE, n = 1018). The frequencies of 26 secondary dysmorphic features were compared among these groups, both individually and combined in non-weighted and weighted dysmorphic scores. Correlations of the total dysmorphic scores with an index of overall cognitive ability were also compared by group status. Results: Several of these features were significantly more frequent in children with FAS than in those with No FASD diagnosis with or without PAE but not in comparison to those with ARND. The number of features was also significantly higher in the FAS group as compared to all other groups for both weighted and unweighted dysmorphology scores but were not higher in the group with ARND when compared to the groups with No FASD either in the presence or absence of PAE. Although not diagnostic, higher total dysmorphology scores were predictive of lower general cognitive abilities in the group with ARND, suggesting severity of alcohol-related dysmorphology is predictive of severity of alcohol-related neurobehavioral impairment. Conclusion: Secondary physical features were not more frequent in children with ARND compared to children without an FASD diagnosis but were a marker for lower cognitive function. The use of secondary physical features to support a diagnosis of ARND was not supported in this sample.

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Journal article


European Journal of Medical Genetics

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