What Do We Know Now?

Trisomy 13 syndrome (Patau syndrome) is a disorder of human chromosomes which occurs in approximately 1 in 10,000-25,000 live-born infants. Trisomy refers to three copies of a chromosome instead of the normal two and in Trisomy 13 there is the presence of an extra #13 chromosome. Approximately 80% of infants with Trisomy 13 syndrome will have a full trisomy (affecting all cells) while the remainder will have a trisomy due to a rearrangement of cells called a translocation (an attachment of all or part of one chromosome to another chromosome) or have mosaicism (two different cell lines in an individual).


The new non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) is increasing in use.  A Positive Predictive Value (PPV) calculator is a tool used to determine accuracy of a NIPT positive result.

Most often a diagnosis of Trisomy 13 is suspected by findings seen on fetal ultrasound, or screening by maternal blood tests.  Optional invasive testing, amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, is needed to confirm a diagnosis but carry a small risk to the fetus.  A prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13, before 24 weeks, is often followed with an option to terminate; a decision made by 75% in the USA and 90% in Europe.  A diagnosis can affect the care provided to those continuing pregnancy, their birthing options, and the care of a liveborn infant.

Infants born with Trisomy 13 have a recognizable pattern of physical features that often allows the health professional to make the diagnosis of the syndrome. Notable physical birth defects and, sometimes, anatomic changes of internal organs are present. Findings of significance include small head size (microcephaly); small eyes (microphthalmia) or sometimes an absent eye or faulty development of the retina; and failure of the forebrain to divide properly (holoprosencephaly). Cleft lip or cleft palate or both occur in about 60% of children and heart defects as described in the next paragraph. In addition, there are a number of less medically significant physical findings that are helpful in diagnosis. These include variations of ear shape, changes on the palm of the hand, and extra fingers and toes. Changes in foot development, including changes to the heel, the so-called rocker bottom foot, can occur.


Heart Defects

About 80% of children with Trisomy 13 will have a congenital heart defect. This can include: ventricular septal defect (VSD), an opening between the lower chambers of the heart which prevents the heart from pumping blood correctly (a heart murmur is generally heard from this finding); atrial septal defect (ASD), an opening between the two upper chambers of the heart making it difficult for the heart to pump sufficient oxygen-rich blood to body tissues (a heart murmur is often heard); patent ductus arteriosis (PDA), a defect involving the lack of closure of the channel that usually closes near the time of birth and thus remains open; and dextrocardia, which is a location of the heart on the right side of the chest. The majority of heart lesions are usually not those that cause death in the neonatal period but on occasion more medically serious heart defects can occur in Trisomy 13.


Medical Problems

The major implications of Trisomy 13 involve a predisposition to the congenital malformations (birth defects) mentioned above, an increased mortality in infancy, and developmental and motor disability in older children. In addition, older infants can have visual difficulties because of the findings mentioned above and a hearing loss. The increased mortality is related to difficulties with breathing due either to interrupted breathing (apnea) or problems of lung development. In addition, gastroesophageal reflux (backward flow of a small amount of stomach contents upward to the throat) and feeding problems can occur and predispose to aspiration (small amount of liquid inhaled or trickled into the lungs) which can precipitate aspirational pneumonia, a risk for survival.

Common Birth Defects seen in Trisomy 13                                Survival in Trisomy 13      

Omphalocele 10%                                                                      High risk of fetal loss early in pregnancy Holoprosencephaly 60% (an anatomic defect of the brain                  decreases as pregnancy progresses but        involving failure of the forebrain to divide properly)                     during labor risk of loss is higher than

Kidney defects 30%                                                                    for an unaffected fetus
Skin defects of the scalp 20%
Cleft lip and or palate or both 60%                                             5-8% survive past 1 year without          
Ocular (eye) abnormalities >50% such as small or absent eyes      extraordinary measures.             Recent                                                                                                                          studies report increased survival in

Common Disorders and illness in Trisomy 13                          Trisomy 13 with medical interventions;   


Feeding difficulties                                                                     respiratory, nutritional, cardiac, and
Gastroesophageal reflux                                                                        surgery when appropriate.

Slow postnatal growth

Apnea (central, obstructive or both)                                            Largest Trisomy 18/13 survival study in

Seizures                                                                                    the USA reported Trisomy 13 survival of

Hypertension                                                                             11.5% at 1 year, and 9.7% at 5 years.

Developmental disabilities                                                          [Meyer et al., 2016]


Frequent pneumonia                                                                  Largest Trisomy 18/13 cardiac surgery
Urinary Tract infection                                                                study in the USA-Trisomy 13 outcomes:
Chronic constipation                                                                  In-hospital mortality 27.6%

Median survival post discharge 14.8 years

Routine follow-up care of infants with Trisomy 13                  [Peterson et al., 2017]


  • Routine child care/anticipatory guidance
  • Cardiac evaluation Often reported surgeries for Trisomy 13
  • Eye evaluation Gastrostomy tube placement
  • Hearing test Fundoplication


  • Scoliosis check through childhood Cardiac surgery
  • Routine immunization Tracheostomy
    · Referral for Infant pre-school/early intervention program           Cataract surgery and Glaucoma
  • Ongoing Support Cleft lip and/or Cleft palate repairs

Cataract surgery and Glaucoma


Survey of >350 parents of children with Trisomy 13 or 18       Gastrointestinal, various repairs
Most chose comfort care for their infant; 30% lived >1 year.
Of infants who received interventions; 50% lived >1 year.
Half said care of a disabled child is/was harder than expected.
89% reported a positive enriching experience regardless of lifespan.
[Janvier et al., 2012]

Resources:  John C Carey, MD, MPH, Medical Advisor for SOFT, Professor of Pediatrics and Genetics, University of Utah
Janvier A, Farlow B, Wilfond BS. 2012. The Experience of Families With Children With Trisomy 13 and 18 in Social Networks    Am Academy of Pediatrics, doi:10.1542/peds.2012-0151

Meyer RE, Liu G, Gilboa SM, Ethen MK, Aylsworth AS, Powell CM, Flood TJ, Mai CT, Wang Y, Canfield MA,for the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. 2016. Survival of children with trisomy 13 and trisomy 18: A multi-state population-based study. Am J Med Genet Part A 9999A:825–837. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajmg.a.37495/full
Peterson JK, Kochilas LK, Catton KG, Moller JH, Setty SP.  Long-term Outcomes of Children with Trisomy 13 and 18 After Congenital Heart Disease Interventions.  Ann Thorac Surg. 2017 Apr 26. pii: S0003-4975(17)30375-2. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2017.02.068. [Epub ahead of print]
Translated from English to Spanish by: Nadin Koharic, certified Literary and Scientific translator (Universidad del Salvador, Bs As, Argentina)
Copyright 2018, Support Organization for Trisomy 18, 13 and Related Disorders
Contact:  SOFT, 2982 South Union St. Rochester, NY 14624, phone 800-716-7638   www.trisomy.org



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