The average life expectancy for a person with Down syndrome is nearly 60 years old. Some people with Down syndrome have lived into their 80s.
Down syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome ( small “packages” of genes in the body that determine how a baby’s body forms and functions as it grows during pregnancy and after birth).
Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Babies with Down syndrome have an extra copy of one of these chromosomes, chromosome 21. A medical term for having an extra copy of a chromosome is ‘trisomy.’ Down syndrome is also referred to as Trisomy 21. This extra copy changes how the baby’s body and brain develop, which can cause both mental and physical challenges for the baby.
Even though people with Down syndrome might act and look similar, each person has different abilities. People with Down syndrome usually have an IQ (a measure of intelligence) in the mildly-to-moderately low range and are slower to speak than other children.
Some common physical features of Down syndrome include:
- A flattened face, especially the bridge of the nose
- Almond-shaped eyes that slant up
- A short neck
- Small ears
- A tongue that tends to stick out of the mouth
- Tiny white spots on the iris (coloured part) of the eye
- Small hands and feet
- A single line across the palm of the hand (palmar crease)
- Small Pinky fingers that sometimes curve toward the thumb
- Poor muscle tone or loose joints
- Shorter in height as children and adults
What causes Down syndrome?
In all cases of reproduction, both parents pass their genes on to their children. These genes are carried in chromosomes. When the baby’s cells develop, each cell is supposed to receive 23 pairs of chromosomes, for 46 chromosomes total. Half of the chromosomes are from the mother, and half are from the father.
In children with Down syndrome, one of the chromosomes doesn’t separate properly. The baby ends up with three copies, or an extra partial copy, of chromosome 21, instead of two. This extra chromosome causes problems as the brain and physical features develop.
According to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), about 1 in 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome. It’s the most common genetic disorder in the United States.
Down syndrome is a lifelong condition. Services early in life will often help babies and children with Down syndrome to improve their physical and intellectual abilities. Most of these services focus on helping children with Down syndrome develop to their full potential. These services include speech, occupational, and physical therapy, and they are typically offered through early intervention programs in each state.
Children with Down syndrome may also need extra help or attention in school, although many children are included in regular classes.
Will my child have Down syndrome?
Certain parents have a greater chance of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome. Studies by the Centres for Disease and Prevention indicates that mothers aged 35 and older are more likely to have a baby with Down syndrome than younger mothers. The probability increases as the older the mother is.
Research shows that paternal age also has an effect. One 2003 study found that fathers over 40 had twice the chance of having a child with Down syndrome.
Other parents who are more likely to have a child with Down syndrome include:
- people with a family history of Down syndrome
- people who carry the genetic translocation
It’s important to remember that no one of these factors mean that you’ll definitely have a baby with Down syndrome. However, statistically and over a large population, they may increase the chance that you may.
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