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article imageOlder Mothers Linked to Babies with Down's Syndrome

By Chris Dade     Oct 27, 2009 in Health
Research conducted by experts from Queen Mary, University of London has revealed that an increase in older mothers has led to a rise in the number of babies diagnosed in England and Wales with Down's Syndrome.
Using data obtained from the Down's register for England and Wales the experts, whose study has been published online by the British Medical Journal, found that from 1989/90 through 2007/8 there was a 71 percent rise in the number of babies diagnosed with Down's Syndrome.
In 1989/90 1,075 babies were diagnosed with Down's Syndrome. By 2007/8 there were 1,843 diagnoses.
However, as the Daily Express reports, because of improved screening and an increase in the number of those choosing to have an abortion after a diagnosis of the Syndrome, the number of babies born with the chromosomal disorder has changed very little over the period covered by the research.
Live births involving babies with the disorder fell from 752 in 1989/90 to 743 in 2007/8, a decrease of just one percent
The number of couples deciding to terminate a pregnancy after a diagnosis of the Syndrome has seen little change too, the percentage remaining at 92. Nevertheless the actual number of abortions has risen, largely because of the improved screening, which is occurring earlier than was the case in the past. One consequence of the earlier screening is that pregnancies that would have ended with a natural miscarriage are now ending in an abortion.
Commenting on the figures, which also showed that a lack of screening would have resulted in a 48 percent increase in the number of babies born with Down's Syndrome, the study's leader, professor of medical statistics Joan Morris, said:What we’re seeing here is a steep rise in pregnancies with Down’s syndrome but that is being offset by improvements in screening. It was thought that these improvements would lead to a decrease in the number of births with Down’s syndrome. However due to increases in maternal age this has not occurred. Other researchers here at Queen Mary have made major improvements to the Down’s screening test and it’s become more widely available over the last 20 years. This means we’re picking up more Down’s pregnancies
Qualifying the link between older mothers and babies with Down's Syndrome the Daily Express notes that in women aged 30 the odds of having a baby with the disorder, which is named after John Langdon Down, the British doctor who first described it in 1866, are one in 940. By the age of 40 those odds are one in 85.
Natasha and Eddie Batha have a three-year-old daughter named Mia who was born with Down's Syndrome and they believe that the high abortion rate associated with babies diagnosed with the disorder is attributable to a lack of information about the quality of life a person born with Down's, and their family, can enjoy.
They explained to the BBC:You're led to believe that it's the worst thing that could possibly ever happen to you. And then you realise it's just another human being who happens to be a little bit different. She just takes a bit more effort and she is a bit slower to pick up on things
Carol Boys from the Down's Syndrome Association spoke also of the lack of information and the misinformation surrounding the disorder, stating:We realise that tests will continue to become more accurate at increasingly earlier stages of pregnancy. It is therefore even more important that families undergoing the screening process are given non-directive counselling and accurate, up-to-date information about Down's syndrome
More about Downs syndrome, United Kingdom, Medicine
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