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22Q-VCFS is an extremely variable condition. No child is born with every sign or symptom, nor will any child go on to develop all of them. There is, however, a core set of complications that are important to be aware of because of the impact they can have on your child’s health.
These issues should be screened for in all children who have 22Q-VCFS.
Approximately 75 percent of people with 22Q-VCFS will have a heart defect. This can range from minor (right-sided aortic arch) to major (tetralogy of Fallot) and can include vascular rings, interrupted aortic arch, ventricular septal defect and persistent truncus arteriosus.
The thymus gland plays an important role in our immune system. In less than one in 200 newborns with 22Q-VCFS, it is completely absent (thymic aplasia) and a bone marrow transplant is often required. It is much more common for the thymus to be present but underdeveloped (thymic hypoplasia). This results in an immune system that is not as strong as it should be, and not as effective at fighting infections. Allergies and autoimmune disorders (such as idiopathic arthritis) are also more common. If your child has partial immunodeficiency, you may receive special counseling about immunizations for your child.
The thyroid gland and parathyroid glands are located in front of the neck, below the larynx (voice box). The thyroid plays an important role in the body's growth and development, as well as metabolism. Both the thyroid and parathyroid glands also play a role in controlling the level of calcium in the body.
Calcium controls the contractions of muscles, the firing of the nerves, and many other vital body functions. Low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) may cause tremors, muscle spasms, seizures, vomiting, and abnormal heart rhythms. When the parathyroid gland is underdeveloped, it is called hypoparathyroidism.
Somewhere between 30 percent and 60 percent of children with 22Q-VCFS will have short stature, although only about 10 percent will end up short as adults. Growth rate will generally be normal but children with 22Q-VCFS are often shorter than other children the same age. Most will catch up to average height. Children and adults with 22Q-VCFS also have an increased risk for abnormal thyroid function, which can affect height, weight and general well-being.
Children with 22Q-VCFS can have a combination of a poor swallow, narrow ear canals, and immune problems that leave them prone to chronic otitis media (fluid in the ears) and chronic ear infections. They are at a higher than average risk for conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. They are also more likely to suffer from sinusitis.
Both the structure and function of the trachea and esophagus can be abnormal. Examples: laryngomalacia, laryngeal web, laryngeal atresia and subglottic stenosis. These problems are not as common as other symptoms of 22Q-VCFS, but when they do occur, they affect breathing, feeding and speech, and can be severe enough to require a tracheostomy.
Feeding and speech issues are common and complex in children and adults with 22Q-VCFS. Identifying and targeting the underlying issues can be difficult as there are often multiple causes in the same child, including both structural differences and neurological issues.
There are significant feeding and swallowing problems (dysphagia) that can result in coughing, choking, needing to “swallow twice” to get food down, food coming out the nose, and intolerance of certain textures. The swallowing issues can be severe enough to require a gastrostomy (G-tube). It is also common to hear reports that children and adolescents are extremely picky eaters. They may experience gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). Constipation is a common problem even in the absence of other gastrointestinal abnormalities.
One study showed as many as 96 percent of individuals with 22Q-VCFS had delayed language acquisition. This included absent or limited babbling as infants, first words after age 2, and first phrases after age 3. Some children have apraxia of speech and will require specialized treatment. Communication (not just speech) is the primary goal.
About 70 percent of individuals with 22Q-VCFS will have palatal abnormalities. These include cleft palate, submucosal cleft palate, bifid uvula and velopharyngeal insufficiency. The pharyngeal valve is located at the back of the throat. It is used for both swallowing and speech. When it does not function as it should, the result is called velopharyngeal dysfunction or velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI).
Individuals with 22Q-VCFS have a higher incidence of renal problems such as hypoplastic / aplastic kidney, or cystic kidneys.
Nearly all children and adults with 22Q-VCFS will have some degree of developmental delay, behavioral issues, and learning difficulties. Psychiatric issues are also common, including anxiety, depression, and an increased risk for schizophrenia. The identification and management of these symptoms is a key component of the 22Q-VCFS Clinic and Center.
More than 180 signs and symptoms have been reported in children and adults with 22Q-VCFS. Some are common, some are rare. No one has all 180, nor will they go on to develop them.
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