Health Problems Related to Down Syndrome
Certain health problems are more likely to develop in people who have Reference Down syndrome Opens New Window than in the general population. These are often a result of body structures that did not develop normally.
Your child with Down syndrome may never have any of these problems even though he or she is at increased risk.
Common health problems include:
- Heart disease. About half of children with Down syndrome have heart defects at birth.Reference 1 These defects may need early treatment to prevent Reference heart failure Opens New Window.
- Respiratory infections. Children with Down syndrome are prone to respiratory infections and persistent Reference fluid in the middle ear Opens New Window. Some children also have an Reference impaired immune system Opens New Window, which makes it hard for them to fight off infections. Respiratory infection can lead to serious problems, especially in children who also have heart defects.
- Hearing, eye, and dental problems. Hearing problems can affect listening skills and language development. Eye problems can range from mild to severe. Gum disease (Reference periodontal disease Opens New Window) is more common in people with Down syndrome, especially adults, than the general population.
- Seizures. Although the cause is unknown, Reference seizures Opens New Window occur more often in people who have Down syndrome than in the general population.
- Sleep problems. Down syndrome causes some children to have sleep problems, such as frequent waking and restlessness. About 50 to 75 out of 100 children with Down syndrome develop Reference sleep apnea Opens New Window, in which there are short periods during sleep when breathing stops.Reference 2
- Unstable joints, poor muscle strength, and weak ligaments. These things increase the risk of spinal problems and neck injury, especially dislocation of the first two neck bones (Reference atlantoaxial dislocation Opens New Window). Foot problems are also more common in people who have Down syndrome than in the general population, probably because of loose ligaments.
- Skin problems. Skin conditions that can affect teens with Down syndrome include dry skin, Reference acne Opens New Window, Reference folliculitis Opens New Window, Reference atopic dermatitis Opens New Window, and Reference fungal infections Opens New Window of the skin and nails.
- Digestive system problems. Constipation and intestinal blockages can develop because of poor muscle tone (hypotonia). Reference Celiac disease Opens New Window, which is an inability to break down gluten protein, sometimes develops and requires a special diet.
Children and adults who have Down syndrome may not be able to tell you or the doctor if they don't feel well or are in pain. Instead, their behavior may change. Or they may stop doing things that they used to do. These may be signs of a medical problem. Talk to the doctor if you notice that the person with Down syndrome behaves in a new way. Also be alert for signs of Reference depression Opens New Window, Reference anxiety Opens New Window, or other mental or behavioral health problems.
Chun-Hui Tsai A, et al. (2011). Chromosomal disorders: Trisomies section of Genetics and dysmorphology. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 1037–1038. New York: McGraw-Hill.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: July 20, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Reference Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics