Health Problems Related to Down Syndrome
Certain health problems are more likely to develop in people who have
Down syndrome 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.
health problems include:
- Heart disease. About half of children with Down
syndrome have heart defects at birth.1 These defects
may need early treatment to prevent
- Respiratory infections.
Children with Down syndrome are prone to
respiratory infections and persistent
fluid in the middle ear. Some children also have an
impaired immune system, 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 (periodontal disease) is more common in people with Down syndrome, especially adults,
than the general population.
- Seizures. Although the cause is unknown,
seizures 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
sleep apnea, in which there are short periods during
sleep when breathing stops.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 (atlantoaxial dislocation). Foot problems are also more common in people who have Down
syndrome than in the general population, probably because of loose
- Skin problems. Skin conditions that can affect teens with Down syndrome
folliculitis, atopic dermatitis, and
fungal infections of the skin and nails.
- Digestive system problems. Constipation and
intestinal blockages can develop because of poor muscle tone (hypotonia).
Celiac disease, 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 depression,
anxiety, 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.
Committee on Genetics, American Academy of Pediatrics
(2001, reaffirmed 2007). Health supervision for children with Down syndrome.
Pediatrics, 107(2): 442–449.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics|
|Last Revised||July 20, 2011|