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What is Down’s Syndrome?

Down’s Syndrome (sometimes called trisomy 21) is a condition that is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in a person’s cells. It is caused by the presence of a third copy (or sometimes part of a third copy) of chromosome 21 at the point of conception, which means it is a genetic condition.

People with Down’s Syndrome can lead healthy, happy lives.  They will have some level of learning disability, though the severity will vary from individual to individual.  This doesn’t mean they won’t be able to learn, just that they may need extra support to find the learning method that works best for them.

People with Down’s Syndrome also usually have certain physical characteristics that doctors usually notice soon after birth – the diagnosis is easily confirmed by a blood test.   There are also certain health conditions that people with Down’s Syndrome are more prone to – but again this varies from individual to individual.

People with Down’s Syndrome used to have a much reduced life expectancy in comparison to the general population.  However, improvements in medical care and support for people with learning disabilities have led to significant increases in life expectancy. Nowadays people with Down’s Syndrome can live independently, enjoy relationships, get jobs and achieve other life goals, and be supported to live the best life possible.

Health conditions to look out for

  • Around half of people born with Down’s Syndrome have a heart problem, though awareness of this fact means that screening will normally pick this up.
  • People with Down’s Syndrome generally have reduced visual acuity, making it likely they will need glasses and regular eye tests.
  • Hearing impairments affect a significant number of people with Down’s Syndrome, meaning many may require a hearing aid.
  • People with Down’s Syndrome often have impaired immune system development, and will be more prone to colds, coughs and other similar infections.
  • People with Down’s Syndrome sometimes experience thyroid problems

Help and support

  • Hft supports adults with learning disabilities including Down’s Syndrome nationally. Contact your local service to discuss support options.
  • If you’re a family carer for someone with Down’s Syndrome, Hft’s Family Carer Support Service can help with guidance and advice on support options and some of the benefits that are available to people with Down’s Syndrome.
  • The Down’s Syndrome Association provides information and guidance on everything from information for new parents, to information written for people with Down’s Syndrome.
  • NHS Choices provides a range of information and links to further useful resources.