Children born with special needs generally have a reduced survival rate. But these rates can improve. Babies born with Down syndrome are living longer than ever.
A recent study tracked survival rates of babies with Down syndrome over twenty years.
"Survival among individuals with Down syndrome has improved in the United States, and survival to one year now averages 94 percent," the author wrote.
"With the exception of the neonatal period, survival in the United States improved over time for all ages," these researchers said.
One reason might be improved medical care for babies with congenital heart defects. Heart defects occur more often for babies with Down syndrome.
The survival rate for newborns has remained steady.
The study, led by James E. Kucik, MPH, from the Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at survival rates of children born with Down syndrome. The researchers included 16,506 babies born between 1983 and 2003 with Down syndrome who had been identified through ten different US birth defects monitoring systems.
Overall, the survival rates were high across the children's lifetimes so far. A total of 98 percent of babies born with Down syndrome survived past their first month of life, and 93 percent past their first year.
The survival rate is 91 percent for living past 5 years old, and 88 percent for living past 20 years old.
During the twenty years of the study, there were no significant changes in newborns' survival rates if they were born with Down syndrome.
However, the survival rates of Down syndrome children at older years did improve over the two decades of the study.
The researchers found other risk factors at birth that decreased a child's likelihood of survival. Babies born with a very low birth weight were 24 times more likely to die shortly after being born, compared to babies born with a normal birth weight.
Also, having a heart defect increased a Down syndrome baby's risk of dying by almost five times. Heart defects continued to be a risk factor for early death among individuals with Down syndrome through their 20th year.
Yet the survival rates overall for Down syndrome children born with very low birth weight or heart defects have improved over the 20 years of the study.
This improvement may account for some of the overall improvement in survival rates.
"Improved surgical and medical management of congenital heart defects and issues related to low birth weight have contributed to the overall improved survival of those with Down syndrome, yet significant risks are still associated with these factors," the researchers wrote.
There was one difference in risk of death noted that relates to race/ethnicity. Non-Hispanic black babies with Down syndrome were 40 percent more likely to die shortly after birth than other babies born with Down syndrome. This risk was found to continue until black children's tenth birthday.
The study was published December 17 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not receive external funding, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.