Down Syndrome (cont.)

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How is the diagnosis of Down syndrome made?

The diagnosis of Down syndrome can be made before birth using one of several diagnostic tests. These tests carry a small risk of miscarriage.

If Down syndrome is suspected after a child is born, a diagnosis can be made via chromosome analysis.

Amniocentesis is performed between 16 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. During this procedure, a thin needle is inserted through the abdominal wall and a small sample of amniotic fluid is taken. The sample is analyzed for chromosome anomalies.

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is done between 11 and 12 weeks of pregnancy. It involves the collection a chorionic villus cell sample from the placenta either through insertion of a needle in the abdominal wall or through a catheter in the vagina. The chromosomes in CVS are analyzed for deviations.

For percutaneous umbilical blood sampling (PUB), fetal blood is taken from the umbilical cord using a needle inserted through the abdominal wall. The blood sample is examined for chromosome abnormalities. It is usually performed after week 18.

What about cognitive impairment in Down syndrome?

The most common condition associated with Down syndrome is cognitive impairment. Cognitive development is often delayed, and all individuals with Down syndrome have mild to severe learning difficulties that last throughout their lives. How the extra chromosome 21 leads to cognitive impairment is not entirely clear. The average brain size of a person with Down syndrome is small and scientists have found alterations in the structure and function of certain brain areas such as the hippocampus and cerebellum. Particularly affected is the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. Scientists are using human studies and animal models of Down syndrome to find out which specific genes on the extra chromosome 21 lead to different aspects of cognitive impairment.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/4/2014

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