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Common health concerns related to Down syndrome


A common symptom of Down syndrome is low muscle tone which causes a greater amount of fat mass and less muscle mass in the body. This increased fat mass, along with a higher prevalence of obesity, puts the Down syndrome population at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Weight management is an important step in addressing these health concerns.

Conditions that are common in individuals with Down syndrome include gastrointestinal problems, decreased immune system, hypothyroidism, and Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions can have a negative impact on their diet.

Gastrointestinal Problems
Celiac Disease
People with Down syndrome are more likely to develop Celiac Disease than the general population in the United States, with the incidence estimated at 7% to 16%. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by sensitivity to gluten which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. When a person with celiac disease ingests gluten, an immune response is triggered that that damages the lining of the small intestines. Treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong, gluten-free diet.

Constipation
People with Down syndrome are at an increased risk of constipation due to low muscle tone and a sedentary lifestyle. Below are ways to prevent or treat constipation.

  • Drink fluids throughout the day, preferably water: 6-8 eight-ounce glasses per day might be a good starting point.
  • Increase the amount of dietary fiber you consume each day. Be sure to drink extra water when eating more food with dietary fiber.
    • Raw fruits and vegetables: Leave skin on, as it is a great source of fiber.
    • Dried fruits such as raisins, prunes, and figs.
    • High fiber grains/cereal products: bran, whole-wheat flour, whole cornmeal, wheat bran cereals (All Bran, Bran Buds, Bran Chex), bran flakes (Raisin Bran), Grape-Nuts, Shredded Wheat, Fiber One.
  • Regular meals during the day.
  • If the above do not work, consult with the registered dietitian nutritionist or physician about taking a fiber supplement such as Miralax or Benefiber.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a condition where stomach contents reflux back into the esophagus causing a number of symptoms including heartburn, sore throat, regurgitation, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. GERD is a concern for children and adults with Down syndrome and can interfere with nutrient intake. The following suggestions may be helpful in minimizing GERD symptoms.

  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • Wait at least an hour after a meal to exercise.
  • Drink before or after meals, not during.
  • Talk to your health provider about medication.

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