Down syndrome: Exams and tests during early childhood (ages 1 to 5)

Down syndrome can cause a variety of health problems related to physical and mental functions. These problems vary in number and severity for each individual. Your child needs routine checkups (well-child visits) like all children do. He or she also needs regularly scheduled exams so that the doctor can look for early signs of health issues that are common among people who have Down syndrome. The sooner health issues are recognized, the better they can be managed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines about checking certain health issues in children ages 1 to 5 who have Down syndrome. Some of the issues to check include:

  • Too much or too little weight gain. At each visit, your child's height and weight should be plotted on growth charts that have been adjusted for children with Down syndrome.
  • Ear problems. Children with Down syndrome are at risk for having hearing problems. The doctor will check for ear infections and do hearing tests about once a year. A hearing specialist (otolaryngologist) should see your child if hearing problems are suspected.
  • Eye problems. Young children with Down syndrome are at risk for having nearsightedness or farsightedness. The doctor should check your child's eyes once a year. An eye exam should be done about every 2 years by an eye doctor who specializes in children (pediatric ophthalmologist) or who is experienced in caring for children with disabilities.
  • Thyroid function. Children with Down syndrome have an increased risk for thyroid disease. The doctor may do a blood test once a year to screen for related problems.
  • Dislocation of the neck bones (atlantoaxial dislocation). The doctor may take X-rays at age 3 to 5 to check the bones in your child's neck and to look for signs of loose ligaments. The doctor may take X-rays more than once if your child wants to be in Special Olympics or if you have noticed symptoms that concern you, such as neck soreness.
  • Sleep apnea . You may be asked questions about your child's sleeping habits, including most common positions and whether he or she snores or is restless.
  • Celiac disease . If your child shows signs of reacting to gluten in foods, the doctor may do a blood test to check for celiac disease.

Doctors also use the Down Syndrome Medical Interest Group's health care guidelines for people who have Down syndrome.

Last Updated: August 4, 2009

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