Genetic Counseling for Klinefelter Syndrome
Klinefelter syndrome can raise a multitude of obstacles to optimal social, physical, and mental health development. Genetic counseling for Klinefelter is advisable as early as it is suspected or detected, in order to plan for your child or loved one’s best possible maturation process and highest level of long-term well-being.
What is Klinefelter syndrome
Klinefelter syndrome is a sex chromosome disorder that affects boys and men. Another name for Klinefelter syndrome is XXY, because instead of the usual single X and single Y chromosome that define most typical males, babies born with Klinefelter have an extra X chromosome in most cells, or all cells of their body.
When only some cells are affected by the extra X chromosome, it is known as mosaic Klinefelter syndrome. Imagine a stone or tile mosaic, with a variety of differently colored small pieces, and you can see why that makes sense. Those born with mosaic Klinefelter syndrome have a milder version of the condition.
When all cells are affected by the extra X chromosome, symptoms may be stronger. This is the most common version of Klinefelter syndrome.
When more than two X chromosomes are found, the condition is more likely to be severe. However, this is quite rare.
Who has Klinefelter syndrome?
Many or even most boys and men with Klinefelter syndrome may not even know they have it until much later in their lives.
As many people now know, gender identity is more complex than just a particular combination of genitals, hormones and chromosomes. Males with Klinefelter may have certain unusual characteristics such as lower muscle tone, less facial and body hair, and a smaller penis and larger breasts than usually appear on males, and these differences may cause them to feel self-conscious or like they don’t fit in with other males in their peer group. However, people with Klinefelter are (X)XY male as far as their sex chromosomes go, and most do identify and are identified by others as male, consistent with their XY sex chromosomes.
By sex chromosome definition, typical XX girls (or those assigned female at birth, as it is sometimes termed) cannot have Klinefelter syndrome.
What are some of the symptoms of Klinefelter syndrome?
Klinefelter syndrome can be diagnosed in childhood, but is most often noticed either at puberty or when the affected person begins trying to conceive a child. It can be diagnosed quite early if a parent, caregiver, or medical professional notices certain markers.
In babies, things that could be markers for Klinefelter syndrome are hernia, a quieter than average baby, slowness to learn to sit up, crawl and talk, undescended testicles (testicles that have not dropped into the scrotum), and muscle weakness.
Children with Klinefelter syndrome may have a harder time making friends and discussing feelings. They may have low energy, learning difficulties with reading, writing, and arithmetic, poor physical coordination, and shyness or low self-confidence.
At the beginning of puberty, when male bodies start to produce sex hormones, boys with Klinefelter will usually not produce as much testosterone, the male hormone. They will likely grow taller, even much taller than is expected in their family, with long arms and legs and a short trunk. This is actually due to the lower testosterone. At some point in average male growth, testosterone slows and halts growth. This doesn’t happen in the same way for males with Klinefelter syndrome.
Teens with Klinefelter are likely to have broader hips than is usual in males, poor muscle tone and slower muscle development, less and later facial and body hair, specifically less hair in the armpits and pubic area, a small penis, small, firm testicles, and enlarged breasts (also technically known as gynecomastia, or, since teens are teens, called “moobs” as slang for male breasts). They are also likely to have more belly fat and a lower sex drive.
Teens and adults with Klinefelter syndrome may have problems reading, writing, and communicating. And they are most probably infertile to a large extent, although that also depends on the severity of the syndrome.
Klinefelter syndrome does impair male fertility, but while it does make it improbable for it to occur naturally, it is untrue that it is impossible for affected males to father a child. With fertility treatment, biological fatherhood can happen. Early diagnosis, early genetic counseling, and in some cases early treatment can help lessen some of the difficulties associated with Klinefelter syndrome.
Starting in puberty and continuing into adulthood, other common symptoms of Klinefelter syndrome include little or no sperm production, anxiety and depression, problems with social interactions, and a tendency to metabolic disorders like diabetes. Klinefelter syndrome can also be associated with autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, lung disease, tooth and oral problems that can increase the incidence of cavities, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
There is also a slightly higher risk of breast cancer, but it is not as high a risk as in females.
Life expectancy can be a year or two shorter than average based on other risk factors associated with Klinefelter syndrome, such as a higher risk of heart and blood vessel disease, but in general, people with Klinefelter syndrome can expect to lead a fairly normal and long life.
How can genetic counseling for Klinefelter help?
Klinefelter syndrome has a wide range of effects, not least among them its attendant mental health, social, and cognitive difficulties.
For adults with Klinefelter syndrome, whether they are trying to conceive or simply trying to understand what is going on with them, genetic counselors can help them figure out their options.
For babies and children with Klinefelter syndrome, genetic counseling can be a crucial step in determining whether and how to intervene to try to offer the best possible outcomes for their health, comfort, development, social feelings, and future family planning. Teenagers with Klinefelter syndrome may consider testosterone replacement therapy early on, as it can help with some of the resulting health conditions, especially if started at the beginning of puberty.
There are many types of genetic counseling, including pediatric genetic counselors who specialize in helping children between the ages of birth and 18. Another option, and which may be easier to access, especially with children, is advanced telegenetic counseling. For some families online counseling options are more accessible and easier to access than in-person sessions.