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Unrecognised health problems in people with Down’s Syndrome

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As the ability to treat problems associated with Down’s syndrome has improved, the life of people with Down’s syndrome has improved remarkably. Yet many people with Down’s syndrome have health problems that are either unidentified or not being treated correctly. Being vigilant in managing the healthcare of a person with Down’s syndrome can optimise not only their physical health but also their mental and social wellbeing.

Some common problems that are overlooked in the health of people with Down’s syndrome are:

Thyroid problems
Thyroid issues occur in around 10% of people with Down’s syndrome. Most people with Down’s syndrome have a problem called hypothyroidism, this means their thyroid gland is underactive. Some symptoms of this are a lack of energy, weight gain and a slowing of reaction time both physical and mental.

Osteoporosis
People with Down’s syndrome are more likely to develop osteoporosis, predisposing them to fractures. Women who are using contraception such as depoprovera for a long period of time are particularly at risk. As in the general population, weight bearing exercise and ensuring adequate calcium intake are useful for maintaining bone health.

Diabetes
Both types of diabetes are more common in people with Down syndrome than in the general population. Many people with diabetes are not aware that they have it but untreated diabetes can lead to serious complications.

Overweight and obesity
People with Down Syndrome are at an increased risk of being overweight and obese. Studies have indicated that this risk is higher if the person lives in the family home.
Conditions associated with obesity are diabetes, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease.

In order to avoid these issues from compromising their health,  a person with Down’s Syndrome should see a doctor for an annual health review. This should include blood tests for thyroid function and fasting plasma glucose, vision and hearing checks and a discussion of lifestyle factors that may be impacting on their health.  People with Down’s syndrome should also have their bone mineral density checked early in adulthood and women should have it checked again at menopause.