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Russell-Silver Syndrome

Failure to grow is primary symptom


Updated April 30, 2014

Children born with Russell-Silver syndrome have difficulty feeding and growing. They have distinctive facial features and may have asymmetric limbs. Although adolescents and adults with Russell-Silver syndrome will be shorter than average, the syndrome does not significantly impact life expectancy.

The cause of Russell-Silver syndrome is unknown. Many cases occur in families with no history of the disorder although a genetic defect in chromosome 7 has been identified in about 10% of individuals. Russell-Silver syndrome affects both males and females and people of all ethnic backgrounds.

Failure to grow is the primary symptom of Russell-Silver syndrome. Other symptoms include:

  • Low birthweight
  • Distinctive facial features which include a small triangular face (a high forehead that tapers to a small jaw), prominent nasal bridge, and down-turning corners of the mouth
  • A normal-sized head but because the body is small, the head looks large in comparison
  • Overgrowth of one side of the body, resulting in asymmetry of arms and/or legs
  • Defects of fingers and toes, such as curving in or fusion

In general, the most noticeable symptom of Russell-Silver syndrome is a child’s failure to grow, and this may suggest the diagnosis. The infant is born small and does not achieve normal lengths/heights for his/her age. The distinctive facial features may be identified in infants and children, but may be harder to recognize in teenagers and adults. Genetic testing can be done to rule out other genetic disorders that may have similar symptoms.

Because children with Russell-Silver syndrome have difficulty consuming enough calories for growth, parents need to learn how to optimize calorie intake, and special high-calorie formulas may be given. In many cases, a feeding tube will be necessary to help the child achieve optimal nutrition. Growth hormone therapy can help the child grow more rapidly, but he or she will still be shorter than average. Early intervention programs for young children are helpful, since some children with Russell-Silver syndrome will have difficulty with language and math skills. In addition, physical and occupational therapy are helpful to promote physical development.

Prakash-Cheng, A., & McGovern, M. (2003). Silver-Russell syndrome

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