Human genes are normally organized along forty-six chromosomes in our cells, twenty-three from each parent. But some people are born with an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome. This third copy is a result of a mistake in cell division.The name for this condition is Down syndrome. A British doctor named John Langdon Down first described it in the eighteen sixties. An estimated three hundred fifty thousand people in the United States have Down syndrome.
Many babies with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, so they need extra support when they are held. Their heads are smaller than average and they may have unusually shaped ears. Also, their eyes often angle upward. People with Down syndrome often have other conditions. These include problems with their heart and with their breathing and hearing. A lot of these conditions, though, are treatable.
About one in every one hundred people with Down syndrome will develop leukemia, a cancer of the blood. But the National Down Syndrome Society says many of these cases are curable as well.As a result, people with Down syndrome are living longer. In the early nineteen eighties they lived an average of just twenty-five years. Today the life expectancy for someone with Down syndrome is sixty years.
But with that longer life, people with Down syndrome may have an increased risk for Alzheimers disease at an early age.An estimated twenty-five percent of those thirty-five and older show signs of the brain-wasting disease. It slowly destroys memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Alzheimers is usually not found in the general population until people are over the age of sixty-five.
Down syndrome is the most common genetic cause of mental retardation. Most people with Down syndrome are mildly to moderately retarded. Many, however, are able to attend regular classes with other students. And later, as adults, many are able to hold jobs and lead independent lives. There are tests that can be done to look for Down syndrome during pregnancy.
The risk of having a baby with Down syndrome increases with the mother’s age. The rate is one in every one thousand two hundred births at age twenty-five. At thirty-five it rises to one in three hundred fifty births. And at forty-five the rate is one in thirty. And thats the VOA Special English Health Report. For more health news, go to voaspecialenglish.com.
Words in This Story
chromosome – n. any of the rod-like structures found in all living cells, containing the chemical patterns that control what an animal or plant is like
syndrome – n. a combination of medical problems that shows the existence of a particular disease or mental condition
leukemia – n. a serious disease in which the body produces too many white blood cells
curable – adj. a curable disease can be cured
Alzheimer’s (disease) – n. a disease that results in the gradual loss of memory, speech, movement, and the ability to think clearly, and that is common esp. among older people
population – n. all the people living in a particular country, area, or place
retardation – n. slow development, or development that is slower than it should be
retarded – adj. having had a slower mental development than other people of the same age
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