Down Syndrome

What is Down Syndrome?

Down syndrome is a condition in which a baby is born with an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are small “packages” of genes in the body. They determine how a baby’s body forms during pregnancy and how, as the baby grows in the womb and after birth, the baby’s body functions. Normally, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Babies born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of one of these chromosomes. This extra copy changes the body’s and brain’s normal development and causes mental and physical problems for the baby.

Even though people with Down syndrome might have some physical and mental features in common, symptoms of Down syndrome can range from mild to severe. Usually, mental development and physical development are slower in people with Down syndrome than in those without it.

Some common physical signs of Down syndrome include:

  • A flat face with an upward slant to the eye, a short neck, small ears, and a large tongue
  • Tiny white spots on the iris (colored part) of the eye
  • Small hands and feet
  • A single crease across the palm of the hand
  • Small pinky fingers that sometimes curve toward the thumb
  • Poor muscle tone or loose ligaments

How often does Down syndrome occur?

CDC estimates that each year about 6,000 babies in the United States are born with Down syndrome.1 In other words, about 1 of every 691 babies born in the United States each year is born with Down syndrome.

What problems do children with Down syndrome have?

Babies and adults with Down syndrome can have physical problems, as well as intellectual disabilities. Every baby born with Down syndrome is different. In addition to the physical signs, some might have major birth defects or other medical problems. However, many people with Down syndrome live happy, productive lives well into adulthood.

Still, some physical problems associated with Down syndrome include:

  • A birth defect of the heart
  • Stomach problems, such as a blocked small intestine
  • Celiac disease, a digestive disease that damages the small intestine so that nutrients from food are not absorbed well
  • Problems with memory, concentration, and judgment, often called dementia
  • Hearing problems
  • Eye problems, such as cataracts or trouble seeing objects that are close by (far-sighted)
  • Thyroid problems
  • Skeletal problems

A person with Down syndrome can have an IQ in the mild-to-moderate range of intellectual disabilities. He or she also mighty have delayed language development and difficulties with physical coordination.