How Down Syndrome is Treated


Down syndrome (trisomy 21) is not a disease or condition that can be managed or cured with medication or surgery. The goal of treatment, therefore, is not to treat the disorder itself, but rather the variety of health issues, medical conditions, and physical, developmental and intellectual challenges that people with Down’s syndrome may experience throughout their lives. . Options can range from physiotherapy and early intervention to assistive devices, medications, and even surgery.

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Most children with Down syndrome need therapy of various types. Some aim to help patients reach physical milestones at the same pace as those without the disorder. Others aim to help them become as independent as possible when they reach adulthood.

Early intervention

The sooner children with Down syndrome receive the individualized care and attention they need to address their specific health and developmental issues, the more likely they are to reach their full potential.

Illustration by Verywell

Early intervention, according to the NDSS, is a “systematic program of therapy, exercise and activity designed to address developmental delays that children with Down syndrome and other disabilities may experience.”Early intervention typically includes these three types of therapy:

  • Physical therapy: Most babies with Down syndrome suffer from hypotonia (low muscle tone) which can slow down their physical development and, if left untreated, lead to problems such as poor posture later in life. Physiotherapy can help them build muscle tone and strength, and also teach them how to move their body in appropriate ways that facilitate their daily functioning.
  • Speech therapy: Children with Down’s syndrome often have a small mouth and a slightly enlarged tongue, characteristics that can prevent them from speaking clearly. These problems can be made worse in children with hypotonia, as low muscle tone can affect the face. Hearing loss can also affect the development of speech. With speech therapy, a child with Down’s syndrome can learn to overcome these obstacles and communicate more clearly. Some children also benefit from learning and using sign language.
  • Occupational therapy: This type of therapy helps children develop the skills they will need to be as independent as possible. This can include a range of activities from learning to pick up and drop objects, turn buttons, push buttons to self-feed and dress.

The goal of this multidimensional approach to the treatment of Down syndrome is to help people with the disease successfully transition from living with their families as children to living as independent as possible in adulthood. (which may, although not always, mean living in a group home or sharing a home with other people with Down syndrome).

Assistive devices

Thanks to advancements in technology, there is an ever-growing range of items that can help people with Down syndrome meet their individual challenges more easily and successfully. Some, like hearing aids and glasses, are the same devices that are useful for people who do not have Down syndrome but who share certain concerns common to people with Down’s syndrome, such as hearing loss and problems. of vision.

Beyond that, there are all kinds of assistive devices that are particularly useful for learning.These range from simple items like three-sided pencils and spring scissors that are easier to hold and manipulate to more elaborate devices like computers with touch screens or keyboards with large letters.

As with all treatments for Down syndrome, the assistive devices and devices that a child with the disease will benefit the most will depend on the extent and type of their physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities. Your child’s physiotherapist, occupational therapist, social worker, and classroom aide will likely be aware of which options will be most helpful and how to get them if they are not readily available.


Many of the health problems that affect a person with Down’s syndrome can be managed with medication, usually the same medications that would be given to a person without Down’s syndrome.

For example, according to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), about 10 percent of people with the disease are born with a thyroid problem or develop one later in life.The most common of these is hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid gland does not make enough of a hormone called thyroxine. People with hypothyroidism, with or without an additional diagnosis of Down syndrome, usually take a synthetic form of the hormone (levothyroxine) by mouth to manage the condition.

Because Down syndrome can cause a variety of health problems at once, many of those who have it also have a number of different doctors and specialists. The NDSS cites a potential problem with this, noting that while it is “common for multiple doctors to be involved in prescribing medication for a person, they may not communicate with each other at all. It is important to be proactive with managing the medication list, ensuring that prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, along with their doses and frequencies, are up to date. “

In other words, if you are the parent of someone with Down syndrome, you should make sure that your child’s different doctors are aware of all the prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, and supplements that they are. take it regularly to help prevent dangerous interactions between them.

Discussion guide for the doctor with Down’s syndrome

Get our printable guide for your next doctor’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.

It’s also important to note that aging presents the same challenges for people with Down syndrome as it does for everyone else, including an increased risk of conditions such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The treatment is also similar.

One difference for caregivers and even doctors, however, may be that it may be more difficult to notice the onset of these types of conditions in a person who has difficulty communicating clearly how they are feeling.

Caregivers and doctors should be alert for signs that older people with Down syndrome may develop additional conditions and, therefore, may now require additional treatment.


Down syndrome is also associated with certain health problems that may require surgical treatment. It would be impossible to list all the potentials, as the medical problems caused by Down syndrome vary widely from individual to individual, but here are some of the most common:

For heart defects

Some birth defects are common in babies with Down syndrome. One of them is a atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD), in which a hole in the heart interferes with normal blood flow.An AVSD is treated surgically by plugging the hole and, if necessary, repairing any valves in the heart that may not close completely.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even with surgery, there can be lifelong complications from AVSD, including a leaky mitral valve, which can make the heart work harder than the heart. normal.

For this reason, people born with an AVSD must be followed by a cardiologist (cardiologist) throughout their life; if they develop a leaky mitral valve, it may need to be repaired surgically.

For gastrointestinal problems

Some babies with Down syndrome are born with a deformity of the duodenum (a tube that allows digested food to pass from the stomach into the small intestine) called duodenal atresia. It requires surgery to be repaired, but is not considered an emergency if there are other more pressing medical issues. Duodenal atresia can be treated temporarily with a tube placed to decompress the swelling in the stomach and intravenous fluids to treat the dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that often result from the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there any treatments for Down syndrome?

    There is no treatment for Down syndrome itself, but there are conditions associated with Down syndrome that require treatment. Health issues that affect some people with Down syndrome include heart defects, gastrointestinal tract defects, thyroid disorders, hearing difficulties, and vision problems. Additionally, early intervention is recommended to treat developmental delays and poor muscle tone common in babies with Down syndrome.

  • Is Down syndrome permanent?

    Yes, Down syndrome is a lifelong disease. It cannot be cured, but with support and therapy, many people with Down syndrome lead happy and productive lives.

  • Is there a mild form of Down syndrome?

    Mosaic Down syndrome is often a milder form of the genetic disorder. Research suggests that children with the mosaic variety of the disease tend to have a slightly higher IQ than children with typical Down syndrome. Additionally, children with mosaic Down syndrome reach certain milestones, such as crawling and walking independently, earlier than children with other forms of Down’s syndrome. However, delays in speech are common in both groups. .


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