down's syndrome

The Relationship Between Down Syndrome and Serious Medical Conditions


Genetics and our understanding of genetic disorders have progressed leaps and bounds in the past several decades. Doctors now understand more about how chromosomal disorders develop at conception, and noninvasive prenatal testing has given us the ability to detect the potential of a fetus developing these conditions earlier than ever.

Along with our understanding of the chromosomal factors that can lead to genetic disorders, researchers have also been able to improve health outcomes for those diagnosed with these conditions. Just decades ago, individuals who were diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth were only expected to live until about age 25. Today, people diagnosed with Down syndrome are expected to live meaningful lives filled with work, relationships, and activities even into their 60s.

This increase in life expectancies is not without its particular challenges. Along with the genetic predisposition inherited from their parents, people with Down syndrome are often observed to experience other health-related conditions later in life.

  1. Problems Regulating Weight

Adults with Down syndrome are believed to be at higher risk for developing hypothyroidism[1], diabetes[2], and depression — conditions that have been known to affect a person’s ability to lose and maintain weight, making obesity a concern among this particular population[3]. Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, this can present challenges for a person with Down syndrome trying to stay healthy as they age. For these reasons, it’s important to encourage physical activities like regular exercise or participation in the Special Olympics, in addition to diet management tips specifically for people with Down Syndrome. Introducing healthy habits early can make a huge difference in the quality of life for a person with Down syndrome much later in life.

  1. Epilepsy

People with Down syndrome are more likely to be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lives[4]. Epileptic seizures can begin at childhood and continue into adulthood or begin later in life. This condition can usually be treated with certain medications and sometimes a specific diet is recommended, but there is no cure.

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease

Studies have shown that by age 60, almost 50% of people with Down syndrome will develop Alzheimer’s disease[5]. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why this occurs, but it’s important to be vigilant of behavior changes in adults with Down syndrome and family members should establish a “baseline” for their memory in order to track changes in the future. If the deterioration in cognitive function becomes advanced, it will be important to establish a strong network of support that includes medical attention and constant caregiving.

Maintaining Health into Late Adulthood with Down Syndrome

While people with Down syndrome face these varied health risk factors into old age, they have been shown to be less likely to develop certain cancers and less likely to suffer from hardening of the arteries in old age[6]. Like with any other typically developing person, those with Down syndrome must take measures throughout their life to stay active, healthy, and happy. If you would like to learn more about Down syndrome, how it occurs, or how to prepare for the birth of a child with Down syndrome, speak with your doctor or a genetic counselor.

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