Saturday, November 21, 2009

Do You Know What Causes Down Syndrome?

Down syndrome children are a lot of work. Parents will need a team of doctors, including a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, a pediatrician and other specialists, like speech therapists. Babies with Down syndrome may have trouble learning to roll over, sit up, feed, walk or talk. However, the temperament of these children is often extremely loving, loyal and gentle, which is why some doctors say raising a child with Down syndrome can be a rewarding experience. What causes Down syndrome boils down to genetics, although there is no way to prevent it.

An error in cell division is what causes this chromosomal disorder, experts say. Typically, human cells have 46 chromosomes; half from the sperm and half from the egg. Occasionally, extra genetic material builds up on the 21st chromosome when cells divide improperly and chromosome 21 becomes a trio, rather than a standard pair. In fact, another name of Down syndrome is "Trisomy 21." The triple chromosome will then continue to replicate improperly in each growing cell.

Doctors found that what causes Down syndrome environmentally may be the parents' age. For example, a 25-year-old mother has a 1/3,000 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome. By age 35, her risk will have increased to 1/365 and by 45, it will be a 1/30 chance of having a baby with the genetic condition! The latest Down syndrome research suggests that older fathers are now responsible for the 50% rise in risk, when the mother is also over 40.

Even though the odds get worse as the parents age, 80% of these babies are born to women who are 35 or younger. However, that statistic can also be explained because younger women are having many more babies. Younger mothers who smoke and have a meiotic II error or who smoke and take oral contraceptives are at increased risk for having a Down child as well.

During pregnancy, there are several screening tests to examine what causes Down syndrome. Some people get blood tests like the quad screen, which reveals chromosomal disorders between the eleventh and fourteenth weeks of pregnancy. Doctors look for plasma protein-A and the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone.

This test is about 87% effective in making a Down syndrome diagnosis. Ultrasound is another method to check for abnormalities. While these tests may give parents peace of mind, they may also set off a false alarm. Even though 1/20 women test positive, most will go on to deliver healthy babies anyway.

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