First Time User? Enroll now.
Get Care Now
COVID-19: Vaccine information, visitor restrictions, testing, treatment, and additional resources
Home > Health Library > Down Syndrome
Down syndrome is a genetic condition. It affects a baby's development. Children who have it may share similar features and health issues. They may learn to talk later than other children and have some intellectual disability. But every person's experience is different. And everyone with Down syndrome has unique strengths and abilities.
Down syndrome is caused by having an extra chromosome. This affects the way a baby's body and brain develop during pregnancy and after birth. Doctors don't know for sure what causes the extra chromosome to happen.
Children with Down syndrome may share similar features, such as almond-shaped eyes that tilt upward. They usually learn to talk later than other children and have some intellectual disability. Some children may also have certain health issues, such as a heart or breathing problem.
While you are pregnant, an ultrasound and a blood test can show if your baby may be at risk for Down syndrome. Other tests can show if your baby has Down syndrome. These include chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis. A baby can be diagnosed after birth based on a physical exam.
Your doctor will make a treatment plan that meets your child's needs.
Starting soon after birth, a baby with Down syndrome will be tested for health problems, such as eye, ear, or thyroid problems. The sooner these problems are found, the better they can be managed. Regular doctor visits can help your child stay in good health. Most children with Down syndrome need speech therapy and physical therapy. Teens and adults with Down syndrome may need occupational therapy to learn job skills and learn how to live on their own. If there are social and emotional issues, counseling may help.
Many professionals will help you and your child through life. With treatment and support, you can help your child live a happy, healthy life.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Down syndrome is caused by having an extra chromosome. Usually a person has 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent. A person with Down syndrome has 47.
Each chromosome carries a group of genes that tell the body and brain how to develop. Having an extra chromosome changes the way a baby's body and brain develop during pregnancy and after birth.
The extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome forms when cells don't divide like they should. This cell division error might happen in the sperm or egg cell before a baby is conceived. Or it might happen after an egg is fertilized.
Although doctors know that Down syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome, they don't yet know what causes the cell division errors that create it.
Being older than 35 when pregnant or having a brother, sister, or another baby with Down syndrome increases the chance of having a baby with the condition. People who are planning to get pregnant and have concerns about their risk factors may want to talk to their doctors about genetic counseling.
Children with Down syndrome have a range of symptoms. They may share similar features, such as almond-shaped eyes that tilt upward. And they usually learn to talk later than other children and have some intellectual disability. But every child is different, and each will have unique strengths and abilities.
Some children may also have certain health issues, such as heart, intestine, ear, or breathing problems. These issues often lead to other problems, such as airway (respiratory) infections or hearing loss. But most of these problems can be treated.
Every person's experience of Down syndrome is different. Many of the challenges people with the condition face are related to intellectual disability and health problems. But different people will have different abilities and symptoms.
Children with Down syndrome may reach milestones later than other children. These include things like sitting, standing, walking, and talking. And as they get older, they may have some behavior problems.
As people with Down syndrome become teens and grow into adults, they may have problems handling strong emotions. Sometimes these struggles can lead to mental health problems, especially depression. But counseling can help to manage mental health.
Occupational therapy can help teens and adults learn important life skills. It can help them prepare to have a job and live more independently. Most people with Down syndrome can live happy, healthy, and productive lives.
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if your baby or very young child with Down syndrome shows signs of:
Call a doctor now if:
Call a doctor if a person with Down syndrome:
Your doctor may suggest that you have tests during pregnancy to find out if your baby has Down syndrome. You may decide to have:
These include an ultrasound and a blood test during your first or second trimester. These tests can help show if the developing baby (fetus) is at risk for Down syndrome.
These include chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis. They can show if a baby has Down syndrome. You may want to have these tests if you have abnormal results from a screening test or if you are worried about Down syndrome.
Sometimes a baby is diagnosed after birth. A doctor may have a good idea that a baby has Down syndrome based on the way the baby looks and the results of a physical exam. To make sure, the baby's blood will be tested.
Your doctor will make a treatment plan that meets your child's needs. With care and support, most children who have Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives.
You can help your child stay healthy by scheduling routine checkups. This will help to find, manage, and monitor any diseases and health problems that people with Down syndrome have a higher chance of getting.
Doctors look for specific problems at certain ages, such as cataracts and other eye conditions during a baby's first year. These checkups are also a good time for you and the doctor to talk about any concerns you have.
Although it may take extra time for your child to learn and master skills, you may be surprised at how much your child will be able to do. With encouragement, your child can learn important skills. You can help your child learn to walk, talk, or eat by himself or herself. You can help your child make friends and do well in school. Later you can help your child learn job skills and maybe live independently.
Your child may develop health problems related to Down syndrome. These may include ear infections, dental problems, or behavior issues. Your child may need:
It may be hard to care for a family member who has special healthcare needs. So it's important to find support so that you can give your child the best care you can.
Think about joining a support group in your area, or even online. These groups can help you connect with other parents who have a child with the same condition. They can also help you learn what resources you can find in your area.
Support groups can be a source of emotional support. But you may also find counseling useful. It can help you understand and deal with the wide range of emotions you may feel.
Your child will need help too. Providing emotional support for your child can help them cope with any problems they may face. And meeting other kids with the same condition can help your child feel like part of a community.
You can help your child stay healthy by scheduling routine checkups. This will help to find, manage, and monitor any diseases and health problems that people with Down syndrome have a higher chance of getting. These checkups are also a good time for you and the doctor to talk about any concerns you have.
Many parents have some of the same concerns as their children grow. These may include:
Current as of:
November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineLouis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Current as of: November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.