Children exposed to alcohol in the womb develop cognitive disorders like abnormal intellectual, behavioral development, language delays, hyperactivity, attention deficits and intellectual delays, but do not develop distinct facial features, according to a study by National Institutes of Health and researchers (NIH) in Chile.

The cognitive abnormalities are termed as functional neurologic impairment as the abnormalities are related to nervous system.

The study was conducted by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) epidemiology branch Dr. Devon Kuehn along with NICHD colleagues Tonia Carter, Mary Conley and Jim Mills, as well as researchers at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the University of Chile.

To conduct the study, the researchers asked over 9,000 women about their alcohol use during pregnancy and found that there were similar characteristics shown by 101 pregnant women who consumed alcohol and another batch of 101 pregnant women who did not consume alcohol at all.

However after giving birth, the researchers tested the infants health and conducted regular assessments of their physical, intellectual and emotional development till the age of eight and found that 44% of children whose mother drank four or more drinks per day during pregnancy reported abnormality, while, only 17% of children exposed to alcohol showed abnormal facial features.

Kuehn said the team was concerned because in the absence of the distinctive facial features, health care providers evaluating children with any of these functional neurological impairments might miss their history of fetal alcohol exposure.

"As a result, children might not be referred for appropriate treatment and services," Kuehn added.