What is Noonan syndrome?
Noonan syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects the whole body, including the heart, blood vessels, skeletal system, eyes, ears and brain. Noonan syndrome is part of a group of conditions called the “RASopathies.” They are called RASopathies because they are caused by problems in the RAS/mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, a cell communication system that uses changes in proteins to help cells communicate in the body.
Other RASopathies include:
- Noonan syndrome with multiple lentigines (MLNS)
- Cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) syndrome (CFC)
- Costello syndrome
- Neurofibromatosis (NF)
Noonan syndrome is genetic and the only way to develop the condition is to be born with the gene change that causes the disease. Children with Noonan syndrome could have inherited the gene from a parent or it could be a gene new in them.
How does Noonan syndrome affect the heart in children?
Noonan syndrome in a child can affect their heart by causing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (thickening of the heart muscle), abnormalities of the heart valves including pulmonary valve stenosis and dilation of the aorta (the large vessel that carries oxygen to the body). Some children with Noonan syndrome can also have arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms) or have a problem with chylothorax (accumulation of lymphatic fluid in and around the lungs or abdomen).
In some cases, children with Noonan syndrome have more complex congenital heart disease that can require surgery in infancy or early childhood.
Who gets Noonan syndrome?
More than 50% of Noonan syndrome cases in children happen when there’s a family history of the disease. Sometimes a parent may not even know that they have the disease. The remainder of children with Noonan syndrome have no family history. When a genetic change is new in a person, we call it “de novo.”
Neither family-related Noonan syndrome nor spontaneous Noonan syndrome is preventable, but the symptoms of Noonan syndrome are very treatable.
What are some Noonan syndrome symptoms?
There can be many Noonan syndrome signs and symptoms because the condition affects many different types of tissue within the body. The most noticeable signs are a short stature, a heart murmur and differences in facial features. Other Noonan syndrome signs and symptoms include:
A more serious Noonan syndrome symptom is an abnormal collection of lymphatic fluid called chylothorax, which can appear as puffiness throughout the body, or a fluid collection around the lungs or in the abdomen. This can affect breathing and may require immediate medical attention or surgery.
How do doctors diagnose Noonan syndrome?
If your child's doctor suspects Noonan syndrome might be causing some of your child's medical conditions, they will likely order more tests to be sure. Genetic testing can tell the doctor if your child has a gene change or variant that causes Noonan syndrome.
Your child's cardiologist will perform an echocardiogram (ECHO) and an electrocardiogram (ECG) to examine the structure and function of the heart. In cases that we need to evaluate heart structure and function in more detail, we perform a cardiac MRI.
Noonan syndrome treatment at Children's Hospital Colorado
While there is no cure for Noonan syndrome, it is possible to treat nearly all its related symptoms. With modern treatments, the life expectancy for people with Noonan syndrome can reach the same as those without Noonan syndrome and most children with the condition live healthy lives.
Noonan syndrome treatments for all of your child's symptoms
At Children's Colorado, our specialty doctors will help your child manage their symptoms no matter what part of the body they affect. Our hematologists can treat any bleeding complications your child may develop as a result of Noonan syndrome. Our pediatric surgeons are trained specifically to treat children, and this includes children with skeletal complications like the chest wall abnormalities that often accompany Noonan’s syndrome. Our endocrinologists can assist with hormone abnormalities like hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone production) or provide growth hormone treatment to improve short stature. Our audiologists and ENTs can monitor for hearing loss and treat conditions affecting the ear, nose and throat like frequent ear infections and sleep apnea.
At our Heart Institute, we can monitor and treat any of the cardiac complications that occur with Noonan syndrome. Our cardiologists use medication to slow the growth of enlarged aortas, as well as potentially slow the growth of heart muscle in cardiomyopathy. In some cases, our cardiothoracic surgeons may recommend surgery to fix congenital heart disease or valve abnormalities.
Noonan Syndrome Clinic
We hold a clinic every month to address the needs of children with Noonan syndrome. Because Noonan syndrome affects so many different parts of the body, this clinic can be very helpful. The Clinic brings specialists from many different departments together in one place so your child can see them all at once. This helps avoid having to make multiple appointments. All working together in one location also allows our specialists to discuss how treatment for one symptom may affect treatment for other symptoms, ultimately helping us provide more effective and successful treatment as a whole.
To learn more about the clinic or to request an appointment, call our clinical specialty coordinator at 720-777-6498.
The RASopathies Network strives to grow a community of practice around RASopathies research by raising awareness, fundraising and connecting and fostering collaboration among those affected and those researching and treating RASopathies.
The American Heart Association fights heart disease and stroke through funding research, sharing knowledge and advocating for those battling heart disease and their families.