Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that a child is born with. Most people have 46 chromosomes, but a child with Down syndrome has an extra copy of one of the chromosomes. This causes a variety of lifelong physical and mental problems.
Someone with Down syndrome has a number of physical traits that differ from those of the average person. These include a flat face, small ears, a large tongue, a short neck and a slant to the eyes. People with Down syndrome often have small hands and feet, as well as a pinky finger that may curve inward toward the thumb. Loose ligaments and poor muscle tone are also common.
The typical mental development of a child with Down syndrome is much slower than for the average child. The condition can range from mild to severe, however, so some children are more affected by the symptoms of Down syndrome than others.
Causes of Down Syndrome
Researchers aren’t sure why Down syndrome occurs, but the mother's age is known to be a factor. After a woman is 35, the chances of having a baby with Down syndrome increase each year -- from one in 350 at age 35 to one in 100 by age 40 and one in 30 by age 45.
Down syndrome cannot be cured, but speech therapy, occupational therapy and specifically tailored exercise programs can help children with Down syndrome with their physical and mental limitations. Many with Down syndrome live full and productive lives. With advances in modern medicine, most people with Down syndrome now live to the age of 60 and beyond.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Down Syndrome Society