Translocation Down syndrome refers to the type of Down syndrome that is caused by rearranged chromosome material. In this case, there are three # 21 chromosomes, just like there are in trisomy 21, but one of the 21 chromosomes is attached to another chromosome, instead of being separate. The extra copy of the # 21 chromosome is what causes the health problems that are associated with Down syndrome.
In translocation Down syndrome, the extra 21 chromosome may be attached to the #14 chromosome, or to other chromosome numbers like 13, 15, or 22. In some cases, two # 21 chromosomes can be attached to each other.
Three to 4 percent of babies born with Down syndrome have translocation Down syndrome. Whenever a translocation is found in a child, the parents' chromosomes are studied to determine whether the translocation was inherited or not. If one parent has the translocation chromosome, then the doctor knows the baby inherited the translocation from that parent. When a person has a rearrangement of chromosome material, with no extra or missing chromosome material, he or she is said to have a "balanced translocation" or be a "balanced translocation carrier."
Parents with balanced translocations may have fertility problems (trouble becoming pregnant), miscarriages, or have an increased chance of having a child with health problems. Although the parent can donate the proper amount of genetic material (23 chromosomes) to a pregnancy, he or she also has a risk of donating too much or too little genetic material to a pregnancy. This is not something the parent can control or predict. The chance depends on the type of chromosome rearrangement and which chromosomes are involved.
There is another important factor to remember when a parent is found to have a translocation. The parents' relatives (brothers, sisters) may also have inherited the translocation and, therefore, may have the same risks for problems with a pregnancy. For these reasons, it is recommended that people with chromosome rearrangements share this information with their relatives so that they can have the option of having their chromosomes studied.