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Turner Syndrome

What Is Turner Syndrome?

Turner syndrome is a genetic condition found in females only. It affects about 1 in every 2,500 girls.

Girls who have this condition usually are shorter than average and infertile due to early loss of ovarian function.

What Causes Turner Syndrome?

Turner syndrome (TS) is the result of a chromosomal abnormality.

Usually, a person has 46 chromosomes in each cell, divided into 23 pairs, which includes two sex chromosomes. Half of the chromosomes are inherited from the father and the other half from the mother. The chromosomes contain genes, which determine an individual's characteristics, such as eye color and height. Girls typically have two X chromosomes (or XX), but girls with Turner syndrome have only one X chromosome or are missing part of one X chromosome.

Turner syndrome is not caused by anything the parents did or did not do. The disorder is a random error in cell division that happens when a parent's reproductive cells are being formed.

Girls born with the X condition in only some of their cells have mosaic Turner syndrome. Often, their signs and symptoms are milder than those of other girls with the X condition.

The condition is named for Dr. Henry Turner, an endocrinologist, who in 1956 noted a set of common physical features in some of his female patients.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Turner Syndrome?

Most girls with Turner syndrome who don't get treatment are shorter than their peers, with an average final adult height of 4 feet 7 inches, and may have other related physical features.

These can include:

What Problems Can Happen?

Girls who have Turner syndrome don't have typical ovarian development. So they usually won't develop all of the secondary sexual characteristics (the physical changes that usually happen in puberty) and are infertile (can't become pregnant) as adults. However, advances in medical technology, including hormonal therapy and in vitro fertilization, can help women with this condition.

Other health problems that may happen with TS include kidney and heart problems, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes mellitus, thyroid problems, and abnormal bone development.

Girls with Turner syndrome usually have normal intelligence, but some may have learning problems, particularly in math. Many also struggle with tasks requiring spatial skills, such as map reading or visual organization. Hearing problems are more common in girls with TS.

They aren't at increased risk for psychological problems, but some girls do have problems with body image or self-esteem and some also might have ADHD.

Despite these physical differences and other problems, with the right medical care, early intervention, and ongoing support, a girl with Turner syndrome can lead a normal, healthy, and productive life.

How Is Turner Syndrome Diagnosed?

During a physical exam, a doctor may look for the physical features of Turner syndrome. These can vary widely — some girls with TS have many features or symptoms; others have only a few.

Doctors use a special blood test that looks at chromosomes — a karyotype — to diagnose Turner syndrome. Results that indicate TS show 45 chromosomes instead of the normal 46. Some girls have two X chromosomes, but one is misshapen or missing a piece.

How Is Turner Syndrome Treated?

Because TS is a chromosomal disorder, there's no cure for the condition. But a number of treatments can help:

Learning Differences

Early consultation with a developmental pediatrician and screening for cognitive issues may help girls with Turner syndrome who have learning problems. A special set of tests (called psychoeducational evaluation) can identify specific problems. A girl's doctor can help determine whether this testing is appropriate for her.

It's important to assess a girl's intellectual, learning, motor skills, and social maturity before kindergarten. If learning problems are found, early preventive and intervention strategies can help.

Looking Ahead

Girls with Turner syndrome might have specific medical problems and different physical characteristics. But you can help your daughter develop daily living skills and cope with new or challenging situations.

(Note: height-related issues may be less important to girls who have improved growth with growth hormone treatment.)

Remember that although Turner syndrome can affect your daughter in many ways, it's only a small part of her total physical, emotional, and intellectual being. Don't hesitate to enlist the help of her doctor, developmental pediatrician, or other medical specialists and mental health professionals.

Reviewed by: Judith L. Ross, MD
Date reviewed: September 2017

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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