The average life expectancy of a person with Down syndrome is about 60 years. There are, however, variations as observed in different individuals.
Many factors influence the lifespan and quality of life in a person with Down syndrome, such as:
- Birth weight: The weight of the baby with Down syndrome may affect life expectancy. Babies with a birth weight less than 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg; very-low-birth-weight babies) are 24 times more likely to die within the first four weeks of life than those with normal birth weight (between 5.5 and 8.8 lbs; 2.5 to 4 kg).
- Ethnicity: There is a higher risk of death in the first year of life in African American infants than in Caucasian infants with Down syndrome.
- Associated congenital conditions: Infants born with other health conditions along with Down syndrome may have a reduced lifespan. For example, infants with Down syndrome born with a congenital heart defect have a five times higher risk of dying in the first year of life than those without it.
The life expectancy of people with Down syndrome has remarkably increased over the years. Reasons primarily are advances in medical science and technology along with greater awareness about the condition.
- The infant death rate has declined from 8.5 percent in 1979 to 5 percent in 2003. This means a remarkable 41 percent reduction in the percentage of babies with Down syndrome dying within the first year of life.
- The life expectancy of people with Down syndrome too has increased from about 25 years in 1983 to about 60 years presently. Care and support provided by the family and community play a great role in improving the quality of life of people with Down syndrome.
Currently, people with Down syndrome are leading independent and fruitful lives, pursuing professions ranging from art, business to hospitality.
What is Down syndrome?
Down syndrome, also called trisomy 21, is a genetic condition in which the baby is born with an extra chromosome.
- Chromosomes are structures present in the nucleus of the cells in our body. Our genes are packed in these chromosomes.
- Each cell of our body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes (except the ovum and sperm that have a total of 23 chromosomes).
- Twenty-two chromosomes are called autosomes (numbered from 1 to 22) and are the same in both men and women, whereas the 23rd pair is called sex chromosomes.
In Down syndrome, the individual has an extra chromosome 21, a condition called trisomy. This means that the person has three chromosomes 21 instead of the normal two. This extra chromosome leads to several signs and symptoms seen in people with Down syndrome. The exact reason for having an extra chromosome is not well understood.
Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder that affects about 1 in every 700 babies born each year in the United States. This means that about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States each year. Although anyone can have a baby with Down syndrome, older mothers (older than 35 years) are at a higher risk of having a baby with this condition.
Can a person with Down syndrome have a normal child?
Yes, a person with Down syndrome can have a normal child. Women with Down syndrome, however, have a 50 percent risk of having a baby with Down syndrome.
Moreover, Down syndrome affects fertility. Most men with this condition are not fertile; however, men with Down syndrome can become fathers to normal children. Although women with Down syndrome can get pregnant, the pregnancy may be complicated.
How does Down syndrome affect a person?
Down syndrome may affect people differently with 4 types of signs and symptoms that include:
- Physical features: A person with Down syndrome has typical physical features such as
- Upward slanting eyes
- Small, low set ears
- Small nose with a flat nasal bridge
- Flattened face
- Short neck
- A tongue that sticks out
- Small hands and feet
- Single palmar crease (line across the palm)
- Curved and small pinky fingers
- Hypotonia (low muscle tone)
- Loose joints
- Short stature
- Tiny white spots on the iris (the colored part of the eye)
- Delayed motor milestone: The affected child attains milestones such as crawling, sitting, and walking at a later age compared with other children. They may have problems with feeding, dressing up, and using the toilet.
- Intellectual issues: Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. They have delayed speech and language development. The memory may be affected in such individuals.
- People with Down syndrome are more likely to have issues with reasoning and thinking (cognition). Cognitive decline may gradually worsen after 50 years. About 50 percent of people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease.
- The disease is generally seen at an early age (50s to 60s) in Down syndrome, unlike other individuals who tend to develop it much later in life.
- Associated conditions: People with Down syndrome are more likely to have the following
- Frequent infections, especially ear and respiratory infections
- Thyroid diseases
- Breathing issues
- Heart defects
- Hearing loss
- Eye diseases
- Gut problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, esophageal atresia, intestinal obstruction, and celiac disease
- Seizure disorders
- Autoimmune disorders
- Accelerated aging
The severity of symptoms and conditions associated with Down syndrome varies.
- Many children with this condition study in schools and colleges attended by other children without this condition, whereas others may need special schools.
- With proper medical care and family and peer support, children with Down syndrome can do pretty well in studies, arts, and sports.
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