Although it is not possible to treat some underlying causes of mental retardation, many of the genetic and teratogenic cases can be prevented through genetic counseling, prenatal diagnosis, and education to alert people of the risk to developing fetuses of teratogens such as alcohol. It also is essential to have an accurate diagnosis of the cause and nature of the problems associated with individual cases of mental retardation in order for parents to be able to undertake the best possible intervention program for their children.
Newborn screening programs can detect certain disorders that will lead to mental retardation, including PKU, congenital hypothyroidism, galacto-semia, maple syrup urine disease, and other inherited metabolic disorders. Prenatal testing (such as amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling) can be used to detect chromosomal disorders, including Down syndrome and sev eral hundred single-gene disorders that may lead to severe physical or mental disorders in children. Neural tube defects can be detected prenatally by testing the amniotic fluid for elevated levels of alpha-fetoprotein. Most of the cases of prenatal testing are done for individuals in which there is a reason to suspect that the fetus is at an increased risk for a particular genetic disease or birth defect. These risks include increased maternal age, birth of a previous child with a disorder, and a family history of a disorder. Genetic counseling also is used to aid a couple in understanding genetic risks before a pregnancy has commenced, however, most mentally retarded children are born to parents with no history of mental retardation.
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