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Patau Syndrome (Trisomy 13)

Extra copy of chromosome 13


Updated June 12, 2014

Premature babies sleep in their cots in the children's and maternity ward at the Eastern Visayas Medical Centre on November 20, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan which ripped through the Philippines over a week ago has been described as one of the most powerful typhoons ever to hit land, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Countries all over the world have pledged relief aid to help support those affected by the typhoon, however damage to the airport and roads have made moving the aid into the most affected areas very difficult. With dead bodies left out in the open air and very limited food, water and shelter, health concerns are growing.
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Patau syndrome, or Trisomy 13, is the least common of the autosomal trisomies, after Down syndrome (Trisomy 21) and Edwards syndrome (Trisomy 18). The extra copy of chromosome 13 in Patau syndrome causes severe neurological and heart defects which make it difficult for infants to survive. The exact incidence of Patau syndrome is not known, although it appears to affect females more than males, most likely because male fetuses do not survive until birth. Patau syndrome, like Down syndrome, is associated with increased age of the mother. It may affect individuals of all ethnic backgrounds.

Newborns with Patau syndrome share common physical characteristics:

  • Extra fingers or toes (polydactyly)
  • Deformed feet, known as rocker-bottom feet
  • Neurological problems such as small head (microcephaly), failure of the brain to divide into halves during gestation (holoprosencephaly), severe mental deficiency
  • Facial defects such as small eyes (microphthalmia), absent or malformed nose, cleft lip and/or cleft palate
  • Heart defects (80% of individuals)
  • Kidney defects

The symptoms of Patau syndrome are evident at birth. Patau syndrome may be mistaken for Edwards syndrome, so genetic testing must be done to confirm the diagnosis. Imaging studies such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) should be done to look for brain, heart, and kidney defects. An ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) should be performed given the high frequency of heart defects associated with Patau syndrome.

Treatment of Patau syndrome focuses on the particular physical problems with which each child is born. Many infants have difficulty surviving the first few days or weeks due to severe neurological problems or complex heart defects. Surgery may be necessary to repair heart defects or cleft lip and cleft palate. Physical, occupational, and speech therapy will help individuals with Patau syndrome reach their full developmental potential.

Genetic counseling and support
Parents of a child born with Patau syndrome will receive genetic counseling to determine what their risk is of having another child with the syndrome. A good resource for information and support is the Support Organization for Trisomy 18, 13 and other Related Disorders (S.O.F.T.).

Best, R.G., Stallworth, J., & Dacus, J.V. (2002). Patau syndrome

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