Radiography of the lateral neck was performed on all children with Down's syndrome aged 4-15 in the Southern Derbyshire health district (n = 67) and a random selection of adults (n = 94). Atlantoaxial instability, defined as a gap of over 4 mm, was present in seven (10%) children and two (2%) adults. Odontoid hypoplasia, defined as an odontoid peg two standard deviations below the mean in an age matched population, was present in 15 (22%) children and 14 (15%) adults, with accessory odontoid ossicles present in two (2%) and two (3%) respectively. No one was found to have symptoms or clinical signs of spinal cord compression. Atlantoaxial instability was therefore found to be commoner in children than adults. Different programmes of management are suggested, in terms of regular clinical examination for signs and symptoms and by radiographic screening. Particular care should be taken with those who have both atlantoaxial instability and odontoid hypoplasia or accessory ossicles as they are at particular risk of spinal cord damage.
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