Down's syndrome : Health conditions

Some children with Down's syndrome have very few health problems as a result of their condition. Others will need extra medical care and attention.

Your child will usually need to be checked by a paediatrician more often than other children to help them stay in good health.

If you have any concerns about your child's health, talk to your GP, health visitor or paediatrician.

Heart conditions

Around half of children with Down's syndrome are born with a congenital heart defect.

The most common defect to affect children with Down's is a septal defect.

This is a hole inside one of the walls that separate the 4 chambers of the heart, often referred to as a "hole in the heart".

If your baby is diagnosed with Down's syndrome, their heart will be carefully checked to spot any problems as soon as possible. 

They may need surgery to repair the heart if a problem is found.

Gut problems

People with Down's syndrome are more likely to have some sort of problem with their digestive system.

Constipation, diarrhoea and indigestion are all more common.

More serious problems may include:

  • small bowel obstruction – which stops food passing from the stomach into the large bowel
  • coeliac disease – a condition where a person has an adverse reaction to gluten
  • reflux – bringing up milk during or shortly after feeding
  • imperforate anus – where a baby is born without an anal opening
  • Hirschsprung's disease – which causes poo to become stuck in the bowels

Hearing problems

People with Down's syndrome are more likely to have problems with their hearing. This is often temporary, but it can sometimes be permanent.

A build-up of fluid in the middle ear (glue ear) is a common cause of temporary hearing problems in children with Down's syndrome.

If your child has glue ear, they'll usually be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

Vision problems

People with Down's syndrome often need to wear glasses to correct their vision.

Thyroid problems

Around 1 in 10 people with Down's syndrome have problems with their thyroid gland.

This is responsible for controlling your metabolism, the rate at which your body uses up energy.

Most people with Down's syndrome who have a problem with their thyroid have hypothyroidism, which means their thyroid gland is underactive.

Symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland can include:

  • lack of energy
  • weight gain
  • slow physical and mental reactions

Hypothyroidism is usually picked up by blood tests.

It can usually be treated with medication to replace the lack of thyroid hormone in the body.


People with Down's syndrome are more likely to develop infections, such as the lung infection pneumonia.

This is because the body's natural defence against infection (the immune system) has not developed properly.

As well as routine childhood vaccinations, your child may be offered extra vaccinations, such as the annual flu jab, to help protect them against infections.

If your child develops a bacterial infection, a course of antibiotics will usually be prescribed to treat it.


People with Down's syndrome tend to develop dementia at a younger age.

Possible signs of dementia include problems with short-term memory and understanding, confusion and disorientation.

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