Rett syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that affects the way the brain develops. It occurs almost exclusively in girls.
Most babies with Rett syndrome seem to develop normally at first, but symptoms surface after 6 months of age. Over time, children with Rett syndrome have increasing problems with movement, coordination and communication that may affect their ability to use their hands, communicate and walk.
Although there's no cure for Rett syndrome, potential treatments are being studied. Current Rett syndrome treatment focuses on improving movement and communication and providing care and support for affected children and their families.
Babies with Rett syndrome are generally born after a normal pregnancy and delivery. Most seem to grow and behave normally for the first six months. After that, signs and symptoms start to appear. The most pronounced changes generally occur at 12 to 18 months of age, over a period of weeks or months.
Rett syndrome signs and symptoms include:
Stages of Rett syndrome
When to see a doctor
Rett syndrome is a genetic disorder, but in only a few cases is it inherited. Instead, the genetic mutation that causes the disease occurs randomly and spontaneously.
Rett syndrome in boys
A very small number of boys have a less destructive form of Rett syndrome. Similar to girls with Rett syndrome, these boys will likely live to adulthood, but they're still at risk of a number of health and behavior problems.
Rett syndrome is rare. It affects children of all races. The only known risk factor is having random genetic mutations known to cause the disease. In rare cases, inherited factors — for instance, having close family members with Rett syndrome — may play a role.
Complications of Rett syndrome include:
Preparing for your appointment
Your child's doctor will look for developmental problems at regular checkups. If your child shows any symptoms of Rett syndrome, she or he will likely be referred to a pediatric neurologist or developmental pediatrician for testing and diagnosis.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your child's appointment.
What you can do
For Rett syndrome, questions to ask might include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Diagnosing Rett syndrome involves careful observation of your child's growth and development and answering questions about her or his medical and family history.
Your child may also have certain tests to identify conditions that can cause some of the same symptoms as Rett syndrome. Some of these conditions include:
What tests your child needs depends on particular signs and symptoms. Tests may include:
If your child's doctor still suspects Rett syndrome after considering other possibilities, he or she will use specific guidelines for diagnosis.
Official diagnostic criteria
The criteria required for a diagnosis of Rett syndrome include:
In addition to these core symptoms, children with Rett syndrome may have other signs and symptoms. In certain cases, children may have many of the signs and symptoms of Rett syndrome but not show all of them. This is known as variant or atypical Rett syndrome.
Treatments and drugs
Treating Rett syndrome requires a team approach, including regular medical care; physical, occupational and speech therapy; and academic, social and job training services. The need for support doesn't end as children become older — it's usually necessary throughout life.
Treatments that can help children and adults with Rett syndrome include:
Because Rett syndrome is a severe and incurable disorder, parents understandably search for treatments that will improve their child's symptoms and quality of life. Examples of alternative or complementary therapies that have been tried in children with Rett syndrome include:
There's not much evidence that these approaches are effective, though some parents who have used them report good results. If you think one (or more) of these therapies might help your child, ask your treatment provider about the possible benefits and how the approach might fit into the medical treatment plan.
Coping and support
Children with Rett syndrome need help with most daily tasks, such as eating, walking and using the bathroom. This constant care can be exhausting and stressful for families. To better cope with the challenge:
There's no known way to prevent Rett syndrome. In most cases, the genetic mutation that causes the disorder occurs spontaneously. Even so, if you have a child or other family member with Rett syndrome, you may want to ask the doctor about genetic testing.
Last Updated: 2012-10-04
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