An Overview of Apert Syndrome

Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Coping

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Table of Contents

Apert syndrome is a genetic condition that affects an estimated one in 65,000 to 88,000 newborns each year. Common traits in people with Apert syndrome include prematurely fused bones of the skull, fusion of some fingers and toes, among others. Although this condition causes varying degrees of both physical and intellectual disability, people with Apert syndrome can grow to enjoy full and productive lives.

If you or someone you know is expecting a baby with Apert syndrome or you are just looking to learn a little more about this condition, it is always helpful to equip yourself with the knowledge of the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and coping.

Symptoms

Babies with Apert syndrome have certain skull bones that fuse together prematurely in utero (before birth) causing a condition known as craniosynostosis. This early fusion prevents the skull from growing like it should and affects the shape of the head and face. Common facial features in people with Apert syndrome include:

  • Sunken appearance of the face
  • Bulging and/or wide-set eyes
  • Beaked nose
  • Underdeveloped upper jaw
  • Crowded teeth and other dental problems

Because the early fusion of the skull can cause problems for the developing brain, people with Apert syndrome may have cognitive disabilities as well. The range of developmental delay and intellectual disability varies greatly—it can be anywhere from normal to moderate.

Other characteristics and conditions that may occur in people with Apert syndrome include:

  • Syndactyly (a minimum of three fingers on each hand and foot that may be webbed or fused)
  • Polydactyly (less common, but there may be extra digits on the hands or feet)
  • Hearing loss
  • Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
  • Excessively oily skin and severe acne
  • Patches of missing hair in the eyebrows
  • Cleft palate
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Fused bones in the neck (cervical vertebrae)

Causes

Apert syndrome is caused by a mutation in the FGFR2 gene. According to the United States National Institutes of Health, "This gene produces a protein called fibroblast growth factor receptor 2. Among its multiple functions, this protein signals immature cells to become bone cells during embryonic development. A mutation in a specific part of the FGFR2 gene alters the protein and causes prolonged signaling, which can promote the premature fusion of bones in the skull, hands, and feet."

Although this condition is genetic, it almost always occurs in people with no family history of Apert syndrome, meaning it is caused by a new mutation.

However, people with Apert syndrome can pass the genes on to their children.

Diagnosis

Doctors may suspect Apert syndrome before birth due to abnormal development of the skull. The official diagnosis is made through genetic testing, which is done by a blood test. This may be performed through amniocentesis while mom is still pregnant if Apert syndrome is suspected.

It is often identified on ultrasound due to the abnormally developing skull bones. However, confirmation is done through blood testing for the gene that causes it.

Treatment

There is no treatment that will "cure" Apert syndrome since it is a genetic disorder. However, there are many therapies, surgeries, and other interventions that can improve the quality of life for a person with Apert syndrome. The specific interventions necessary will depend on the individual and how they are affected.

Common surgeries for children with Apert syndrome include:

  • Skull reshaping
  • Frontal-orbital advancement (to increase space in the forehead and eye sockets)
  • Mid-facial advancement
  • Facial bi-partition to widen the upper jaw
  • Osteotomy (expansion of upper and lower jaws)
  • Rhinoplasty (plastic surgery of the nose)
  • Genioplasty (plastic surgery of the chin or cheeks)
  • Eyelid surgery
  • Separation of fingers and/or toes

People with Apert syndrome may need to see special doctors, especially during childhood, to manage issues like cleft palate and hearing problems. They may also benefit from early intervention services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy if they show signs of developmental delays.

An estimated 50 percent of people with Apert syndrome have intellectual disability or delays but many are able to catch up to their peers.

Coping

Having a child with special needs can be overwhelming for any parent. If you receive a prenatal diagnosis of Apert syndrome, be sure to talk to your physician about what to expect. Gather information from credible sources and talk to other parents if possible. Although the diagnosis may seem overwhelming and frightening at first, you may learn that it is more manageable than you initially anticipated.

Apert syndrome is a rare condition but there are multiple resources and support groups available throughout the United States and the world. With the internet and social media, it is easier than ever to connect to other families and find support. Look for craniofacial centers near you as well. The more resources you are able to find and plug into, the more comfortable you will feel.

A Word From Verywell

A diagnosis of Apert syndrome can be frightening and difficult for anyone. It is not something most people have heard of and can cause significant medical complications. However, there are many resources available to help families so that children and adults with Apert syndrome can live and thrive in today's world.

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