Down syndrome occurs when a baby is born with an extra (third) copy of chromosome 21. It is a genetic condition and is not an illness or a disease.
Like everyone, people with Down syndrome vary in appearance, ability and personality. But some health problems are common to many people with Down syndrome.
What causes Down syndrome?
Doctors know how Down syndrome occurs but not why.
The body cells of most people have 46 chromosomes.
People with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome 21 in their body cells. Having this extra chromosome happens by chance — not because of anything parents have done.
If you’re pregnant and concerned about having a child with Down syndrome, visit Pregnancy, Birth and Baby for more information on Down syndrome screening and diagnosis.
Health problems for people with Down syndrome
People with Down syndrome may have a higher chance of some health problems than other people. They may also have lower immunity which means you may get sick more often especially in early childhood.
Everyone with Down syndrome has some degree of learning difficulty. They may need speech and language therapy to help them to speak clearly.
Regular checks may be required for health problems including teeth development.
Many people with Down syndrome are happy, healthy and lead independent lives. However, they may need more support to help achieve the kind of life that most people take for granted.
Watch this video about the importance of building relationships with health professionals for people with Down syndrome and their families.
If you have Down syndrome or you are caring for someone with Down syndrome, speak to your doctor about any particular health concerns you have or require more information about.
You can also visit Down Syndrome Australia to find resources to help you with your health, education and employment. There are also organisations that you can contact in your state or territory:
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Last reviewed: April 2020