Tay Sachs Disease Risk Factors, Prevention And Treatment


Tay-Sachs syndrome is a rare genetic disease that is passed on from one parent to the next. It happens as a result of a deficiency in an enzyme that facilitates the breakdown of fatty substances. In the brain and spinal cord, these fatty compounds, known as gangliosides, amass to hazardous amounts and impair the operation of the nerve cells.

The most common and severe type of Tay-Sachs disease first exhibits signs and symptoms between the ages of 3 and 6 months. As the condition worsens, growth slows and muscles begin to deteriorate. Seizures, hearing and visual loss, paralysis, and other severe issues eventually result from this. With this particular kind of Tay-Sachs disease, a child's average life span is only a few years.

Some children experience the juvenile version of Tay-Sachs disease less often and they could live into their teenage years. Rarely, some individuals get Tay-Sachs disease late in life, which is frequently less severe than types that first appear in children.

Healthcare professionals highly advise genetic testing and genetic counselling if you have a family history of Tay-Sachs disease, are a member of a high-risk group, and intend to have children.


A genetic ailment called Tay-Sachs is transferred from one generation of parents to the next. The disorder develops when a child inherits a flaw (mutation) in the HEXA gene from both parents.

The enzyme beta-hexosaminidase A is deficient as a result of the genetic mutation that causes Tay-Sachs disease. For this enzyme to work, the fatty compound GM2 ganglioside needs to be broken down. The brain and spinal cord's nerve cells are harmed by the accumulation of fatty substances. How much enzyme is still generated is related to the severity and age of the disease's development.

How to check if you have Tay Sachs Disease?

Make an appointment with your doctor if you or your child exhibits any of the symptoms or indicators that Tay-Sachs disease may be present, or if you are worried about your child's development.

Risk Factors

Having ancestors from the following populations increases your chance of developing Tay-Sachs disease since these communities have higher rates of the gene mutation that causes the condition:

  • Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Eastern and Central Europe
  • A few Quebec villages of French Canadians
  • Pennsylvanian Old Order Amish community Cajun neighbourhood in Louisiana

The HEXA gene mutation that causes Tay-Sachs disease can be detected with a blood test. It is advised to seek genetic counselling after testing.


There are three main types of Tay-Sachs disease: infantile, juvenile, and late-onset/adult.

By the time they are 3 to 6 months old, infants frequently begin displaying the infantile form's most common and severe signs and symptoms. 

A few years are the typical lifetime. These are a few of the symptoms and warning signs:

  • Excessive startle when the infant encounters loud noises
  • Eyes with "cherry-red" dots
  • Loss of movement abilities, such as the inability to turn over, crawl, or sit up
  • Muscle wasting that leads to paralysis
  • Movement issues
  • Seizures
  • Blindness and a loss of vision
  • Deafness and hearing loss
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Mental decline and a loss of sensitivity to the environment
  • The increasing enlargement of the head (progressive macrocephaly)

Fewer people have Tay-Sachs disease in its juvenile form. Symbols and

common. The onset of signs and symptoms in children varies in severity. Survival usually lasts into the teenage years. Among the warning signs and symptoms are:

  • Behavioural issues
  • Progressive loss of ability and control
  • Respiratory diseases that are common
  • Gradual loss of speech and eyesight
  • Deterioration of mental capacity and responsiveness
  • Seizures
  • Adult/late-onset form

Signs and symptoms of this uncommon and less severe variant start in late infancy and last till maturity. Life expectancy is not usually impacted by this kind of since the severity of the symptoms varies widely. Slow-moving signs and symptoms may include:

  • Muscle tremor
  • Guilt and a lack of coordination
  • Muscle spasms and tremors
  • Loss of walking ability
  • Speaking and swallowing issues
  • Psychiatric conditions
  • Occasionally, mental function is lost.


It is impossible to avoid Tay-Sach's illness. It is a hereditary disorder. It is passed down to children by two variant genes from their parents. Genetic testing before becoming pregnant is the most effective strategy to avoid Tay-Sachs.


Tay-Sachs disease has no known cure, and there are no proven therapies to halt the illness's development. Some treatments can aid in symptom management and avert complications. Support and comfort are the main aims of therapy.

Supportive therapies consist of:

Medication. Several prescription drugs are available to treat symptoms and stop problems, such as anti-seizure drugs or antibiotics for infections.

Pulmonary care. Having too much mucus in the lungs increases the risk of lung infections, which can make breathing difficult. By breathing food or drink into the lungs during eating, children may experience difficulty swallowing or respiratory issues. Your doctor could suggest an assisted feeding device, such as a feeding tube, to avoid those issues. 

Using a feeding tube. A feeding tube can be surgically placed directly into the stomach (gastrostomy tube) or can be introduced via your child's nose and into the stomach.

Physical treatment. Your child may benefit from physical therapy as the condition worsens in order to keep joints flexible and preserve as much range of motion as possible. Physical therapy can lessen or postpone joint stiffness as well as the potential discomfort and loss of function in affected muscles.

Occupational medicine. These therapists can offer suggestions for leisure pursuits and aids for daily living.

Treatment for speech and language. Therapists that specialise in speech and language can help with swallowing issues.

Complications of Tay Sachs Disease

Babies that have this syndrome grow a heightened startle response to loud stimuli. Children with Tay-Sachs disease endure seizures, myoclonic jerks (involuntary muscle jerks), dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), eyesight and hearing loss, and intellectual incapacity as the condition worsens.

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Page last reviewed: May 15, 2023

Next review due: May 15, 2025

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