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Understanding Edwards Syndrome

Understanding Edwards Syndrome

Understanding Edwards Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Care Strategies

Edwards Syndrome, also known as Trisomy 18, is a life-altering genetic condition that deeply touches the lives of those affected and their families. An extra copy of chromosome 18 results in a spectrum of physical and developmental challenges that demand our utmost care and understanding. Let’s dive deep into the genesis, symptoms, diagnostic procedures, prognosis, and management of this condition, and navigate the ethical dilemmas it poses.

Key Takeaways

  • Edwards Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by an additional copy of chromosome 18, with three forms and numerous physical and developmental implications.

  • Diagnosis involves prenatal and postnatal tests for recognizing symptoms, confirming the presence of the condition through genetic testing, understanding prognosis & life expectancy, as well as recurrence risk & family planning.

  • Management strategies include medical treatments/interventions to address health issues, palliative care for comfort, support resources such as counseling & groups to provide guidance, informed decision making on treatment options balancing quality of life considerations, prevention initiatives including maternal age screening & environmental factors assessment.

The Genesis of Edwards Syndrome

Edwards Syndrome

Edwards Syndrome, also known as Trisomy 18, is a genetic disorder that results from an additional copy of chromosome 18, leading to a myriad of physical and developmental abnormalities. First reported by John Hilton Edwards in 1960, the condition manifests in three forms: Complete Trisomy 18, Partial Trisomy 18, and Mosaic Trisomy 18, each with its unique characteristics and implications. Edwards Syndrome Trisomy 18 affects individuals in various ways, making early diagnosis and management crucial for improving the quality of life.

Complete Trisomy 18

Complete Trisomy 18, the predominant variant of Edwards Syndrome, is characterized by a child having three full copies of chromosome 18. This chromosomal abnormality causes profound physical and developmental irregularities, akin to those seen in Down Syndrome, which results from an extra copy of chromosome 21.

Babies born with birth defects encounter multiple congenital anomalies, often caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. This can lead to multiple congenital anomalies caused by these factors, resulting in a series of health complications.

Partial Trisomy 18

Partial Trisomy 18, a less severe variant of the condition, is marked by the presence of an additional fragment of chromosome 18. The severity of symptoms varies, as the condition affects each baby differently. Infants diagnosed with Edwards Syndrome often require specialized care, such as admission to a neonatal intensive care unit, to manage the various health complications and support their growth and development.

Mosaic Trisomy 18

Mosaic Trisomy 18, the least common variant of Edwards Syndrome, presents with an additional chromosome 18 in a subset of the body’s cells. The intensity of symptoms varies based on the extent of cellular involvement by the additional chromosome, making it a type of new autosomal trisomy syndrome. Some individuals with this condition may exhibit physical traits such as overlapping fingers.

Distinctive craniofacial characteristics, prenatal growth deficiency, and notable developmental delays are common manifestations of this variant.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Edwards Syndrome

Edwards Syndrome manifests a range of symptoms that can be categorized into physical abnormalities, developmental delays, and health problems, all of which contribute to the Edwards Syndrome phenotype. From breathing irregularities to heart anomalies, from inadequate growth to significant developmental impairments, children with Edwards Syndrome face a multitude of challenges.

Physical Abnormalities

Children with Edwards Syndrome often display a host of physical abnormalities, including:

  • Heart defects, such as ventricular septal defect (VSD), atrial septal defect (ASD), and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

  • Kidney problems, including renal cysts and horseshoe kidney

  • Skeletal deformities

These challenges can make it difficult for children with Edwards Syndrome to thrive.

Developmental Delays

Edwards Syndrome also leads to significant developmental delays. Children born with this condition often exhibit intellectual disabilities that may impact their capacity to learn and function comparably to typically developing children. Constraints in the development of both fine and gross motor skills are also common, leading to delayed milestones and motor challenges.

Health Problems

Beyond physical and developmental challenges, Edwards Syndrome brings forth a host of health problems. Frequent respiratory issues range from challenges with feeding and swallowing to breathing abnormalities, which can potentially lead to respiratory failure. The feeding difficulties may stem from factors such as reflux and poor muscle coordination or tone.

Diagnosis Procedures

The diagnostic process for Edwards Syndrome encompasses multiple procedures such as prenatal and postnatal testing, in addition to confirmatory tests. Prenatal screening tests such as maternal age screening, maternal serum marker screening, and ultrasound screening, along with postnatal physical examination and assessment of growth and development, are key to the early detection of the condition.

Prenatal Diagnosis

Prenatal diagnosis employs methods such as:

  • Blood tests

  • Ultrasounds

  • Amniocentesis

  • Chorionic villus sampling

These tests aim to identify the presence of an extra chromosome, specifically an extra copy of chromosome 18, thus detecting Edwards Syndrome.

Postnatal Diagnosis

Postnatal diagnosis involves a thorough physical examination of the newborn, with a focus on features that might indicate Edwards Syndrome, such as:

  • low birth weight

  • small head

  • low-set ears

  • heart defects

  • digit abnormalities

These physical indicators lead to a postnatal identification of the condition, which is then confirmed through genetic testing.

Confirmatory Tests

Confirmatory tests, such as karyotyping, provide a definitive diagnosis of Edwards Syndrome. They involve analyzing the size, shape, and quantity of chromosomes in a cell sample to detect the presence of an additional chromosome 18, a defining feature of Edwards Syndrome.

Prognosis and Life Expectancy

Edwards Syndrome

Regrettably, children with Edwards Syndrome often have a grim prognosis, marked by limited survival rates and diverse degrees of life quality. The severity of the condition, along with associated health complications, significantly limits the life expectancy.

Survival Rates

Survival rates for babies with Edwards Syndrome are low, with only 5-10% living beyond their first year. The survival rates differ depending on the type of trisomy 18, with the most severe form, complete trisomy 18, having the lowest survival rate.

Factors Affecting Life Expectancy

Various factors affect the life expectancy of Edwards Syndrome patients, including the presence of life-threatening complications such as cardiac malformations, respiratory insufficiency, and central apnea. The severity of these complications can result in a high mortality rate, especially within the first year of life.

Quality of Life

The quality of life for children with Edwards Syndrome depends on the severity of their symptoms and the level of support they receive. Despite these challenges, they can still be valued members of their families and can have a positive quality of life, as reported by parents.

Management and Support

Edwards Syndrome

The management of Edwards Syndrome requires a multifaceted approach, incorporating medical treatments, palliative care, and supportive resources. These support structures aim to improve the child’s quality of life and equip families to handle the challenges of the condition.

Medical Interventions

Medical interventions for Edwards Syndrome may include the use of feeding tubes, supportive treatments such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, and surgeries to correct heart defects.

The treatment of infections using antibiotics or other suitable medications is also a critical component of the care plan.

Palliative Care

Palliative care plays a significant role in managing Edwards Syndrome. It focuses on providing comfort and improving the quality of life for children with the syndrome. Palliative care services can include therapies, treatments, and surgeries to improve the quality of care.

Support Resources

Support resources for families dealing with Edwards Syndrome include genetic counseling, support groups, and community services. These resources can provide families with much-needed emotional support, guidance, and a sense of community.

Coping with Ethical Dilemmas

Addressing the ethical dilemmas linked to Edwards Syndrome necessitates informed decision-making, weighing quality of life against medical treatments, and comprehending the risk of recurrence. It’s a challenging process, but with the right support and information, families can navigate these difficult decisions.

Informed Decision-Making

Informed decision-making involves:

  • Understanding the prognosis, treatment options, and potential outcomes for the child

  • Engaging in a two-way dialogue between patients and their healthcare practitioners

  • Deliberating the advantages, disadvantages, and existing evidence

  • Arriving at a well-informed decision

Balancing Quality of Life and Treatment

Balancing quality of life and treatment requires weighing the benefits and risks of medical interventions and palliative care. This involves considering the potential advantages and disadvantages of treatment interventions while also placing emphasis on the overall quality of life for individuals with Edwards Syndrome.

Recurrence Risk and Family Planning

Recurrence risk and family planning involve understanding the chances of having another child with Edwards Syndrome and making informed decisions about future pregnancies. Genetic counseling can play a crucial role in this process, offering guidance and support to families as they navigate these complex decisions.

Prevention and Research

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Preventive measures and research initiatives emphasize comprehending the role of maternal age and risk factors, offering genetic counseling, and investigating novel treatment possibilities.

While there is currently no cure for Edwards Syndrome, the ongoing research offers hope for future advancements in treatment options and care.

Maternal Age and Risk Factors

Maternal age and risk factors play a role in the occurrence of Edwards Syndrome. The risk of Edwards Syndrome significantly rises with the mother’s age during pregnancy. However, specific environmental toxins and substances encountered during pregnancy may also elevate the risk.

Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling can help families in the following ways:

  • Understand their risk of recurrence

  • Make informed decisions about future pregnancies

  • Enhance understanding of the genetic underpinnings of the condition

  • Understand the associated risks

  • Learn about the available options for testing and management

Genetic counseling is an important resource for families dealing with genetic disorders and other genetic conditions.

Current Research and Future Directions

Current research and future directions include exploring new treatment options, understanding the underlying causes of Edwards Syndrome, and improving the quality of life for affected individuals. These efforts aim to elevate the standard of care and enhance outcomes for individuals impacted by the syndrome.


Edwards Syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by an extra copy of chromosome 18, presents a range of physical and developmental challenges that demand our utmost care and understanding. From diagnosis to treatment, from coping strategies to research efforts, our understanding of Edwards Syndrome continues to evolve. While the journey is undoubtedly challenging, the collective efforts of medical professionals, researchers, and support communities give hope for a brighter future for those affected by this condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the life expectancy for Edwards syndrome?

The life expectancy for Edwards Syndrome (also known as trisomy 18) is generally short, with most infants surviving only 3 days to 2 weeks and fewer than 10% surviving beyond the first year of life due to significant heart or lung defects.

Are there any adults with Edwards syndrome?

There have been some reported cases of children with Edwards syndrome surviving into teenage or young adult years, although this is rare. However, these individuals are not able to live independently and require life-long round-the-clock nursing care and support with activities of daily living. Therefore, there are no adults with Edwards syndrome.

What gender can get Edwards syndrome?

Edwards syndrome is much more common in females than males, with overall prevalence of 1 in 2500 and liveborn prevalence of 1 in 8600, while fetal loss being higher in males. Females have a better survival rate compared to males.

What is the longest a baby has lived with trisomy 18?

Megan Hayes, the oldest known person in the US living with Trisomy 18, has reached 40 years of age, the longest a baby has lived with this condition.

How is Edwards Syndrome diagnosed?

Edwards Syndrome can be diagnosed through a combination of prenatal and postnatal testing, as well as karyotyping for confirmation.

Original content from the Upbility writing team. Reproduction of this article, in whole or in part, without credit to the publisher is prohibited.

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