Frequently Asked Questions

Down Syndrome

  • What types of problems do children with Down syndrome typically have?

      - About 40 percent to 50 percent of babies with Down syndrome have heart defects. Some defects are minor and may be treated with medications, while others may require surgery. All babies with Down syndrome should be examined by a pediatric cardiologist, a physician who specializes in heart diseases of children, and have an echocardiogram (a procedure that evaluates the structure and function of the heart by using sound waves recorded on an electronic sensor that produce a moving picture of the heart and heart valves) in the first two months of life, so that any heart defects can be treated.

      - About 10 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born with intestinal malformations that require surgery.

      - Children with Down syndrome are at increased risk for visual or hearing impairment. Common visual problems include crossed eyes, near- or farsightedness, and cataracts. Most visual problems can be improved with glasses, surgery, or other treatments. A pediatric ophthalmologist (a physician who specializes in comprehensive eye care and provides examinations, diagnosis, and treatment for a variety of eye disorders) should be consulted within the first year of life.

      - Children with Down syndrome may have hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear, a nerve defect, or both. All children with Down syndrome should have regular vision and hearing examinations so any problems can be treated before they hinder development of language and other skills.

      - Children with Down syndrome are at increased risk of thyroid problems and leukemia. They also tend to have many colds, as well as bronchitis and pneumonia. Children with Down syndrome should receive regular medical care including childhood immunizations. The National Down Syndrome Congress publishes a "Preventative Medicine Checklist" which outlines which checkups and medical tests are recommended at various ages.

  • How serious is mental retardation that accompanies Down syndrome?
      The degree of mental retardation that accompanies Down syndrome varies widely, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. However, most mental retardation falls within the mild to moderate range. There is no way to predict the mental development of a child with Down syndrome based on physical features.
  • What can a child with Down syndrome do?
      Children with Down syndrome can usually do most things that any young child can do, such as walking, talking, dressing, and being toilet trained. However, they generally do these things later than other children. The exact age that these developmental milestones will be achieved cannot be predicted. However, early intervention programs, beginning in infancy, can help these children achieve their individual potential.
  • Can a child with Down syndrome go to school?

      Yes. There are special programs beginning in the preschool years to help children with Down syndrome develop skills as fully as possible. Along with benefiting from early intervention and special education, many children can be integrated in the regular classroom, to some extent. The outlook for these children is far brighter than it once was. Many will learn to read and write and participate in diverse childhood activities both at school and in their neighborhoods. 

      While there are special work programs designed for adults with Down syndrome, many people with the disorder can hold regular jobs. Today, an increasing number of adults with Down syndrome live semi-independently in community group homes where they take care of themselves, participate in household chores, develop friendships, partake in leisure activities, and work in their communities.

  • Can people with Down syndrome marry?
      Some people with Down syndrome marry. Although there have been rare exceptions, men with Down syndrome cannot father a child. In any pregnancy, a woman with Down syndrome has a 50/50 chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome, but many pregnancies are miscarried.
  • What are the maternal age risks for Down syndrome?

      Maternal Age

      Risk at Birth

      25 to 29 years

      1 out of 1250

      35 years

      1 out of 378

      40 years

      1 out of 100

      45+

      1 out of 30

  • What is the risk of parents of a child with Down syndrome having another child with Down syndrome?
      In general, for women under 40 (after having one child with Down syndrome), the chance of having another baby with Down syndrome is 1 percent. The chance for Down syndrome is also known to increase with the mother's age and, after age 40, a mother would simply have the risk based on her age at delivery. 

      It is important to know that about 80 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born to women under 35. This is due to the fact that women under 35 have more babies than women over 35. Your physician may refer you to a geneticist or genetic counselor who can explain the results of chromosomal tests in detail, including what the recurrence risks may be in another pregnancy and what tests are available to diagnose chromosome problems before a baby is born.

  • Can Down syndrome be cured or prevented?
      There is no cure for Down syndrome. We are not certain how to prevent the chromosomal error that causes Down syndrome. To date, there is no reason to believe that a parent could have done anything to cause or prevent the birth of their baby with Down syndrome. 

      However, a recent study suggests that some women who have had a baby with Down syndrome had an abnormality in how their bodies metabolize (process) the B vitamin folic acid. If confirmed, this finding may provide yet another reason why all women who might become pregnant should take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid (which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord).

      Some claim that various high dose vitamins given to children with Down syndrome will improve the mental performance and lessen the mental retardation. To date, however, there has not been a medical study to prove that this actually works. It is important for new families to talk to their physician, other families, and the National Down Syndrome Congress to learn what to expect with Down syndrome and to learn about things which may be helpful in raising a child with Down syndrome.

  • What research is being conducted on Down syndrome?
      The March of Dimes is investigating why errors in chromosome division occur, in the hope of someday preventing Down syndrome and other birth defects caused by abnormalities in the number or structure of chromosomes. Other researchers are seeking to improve the outlook for children with Down syndrome. One example of this includes developing improved language intervention programs to help these children communicate more easily.
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