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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Mental Retardation
      Category : Health Centers > Mental Health (Mental Disorders)

Mental Retardation

Alternate Names : Developmentally Delayed, Mentally Disabled

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Mental retardation is defined by three things. First, the person must have had the condition since childhood, or age 18 years or younger. Second, the person has a score of 70 or less on intelligence tests, or IQ tests. Third, the person has limitations in at least two aspects of living skills, such as:

  • communication
  • education, including reading, writing, and basic math
  • motor function
  • personal care, such as bathing, dressing, eating, and toileting
  • social skills
  • thinking skills, such as decision making, problem solving, and self-direction
  • working
  • What is going on in the body?

    People with mental retardation have reduced intellectual function. Sometimes it is because the brain has not formed properly. Or the brain is damaged after the child is born.

    What are the causes and risks of the condition?

    Mental retardation can be caused by a many factors, both before and after the child is born. More than 500 genetic disorders can cause mental retardation. Three are listed here:

  • Down syndrome
  • fragile X syndrome
  • phenylketonuria, or PKU
  • The following pregnancy-related problems in the mother can also cause mental retardation in the baby:

  • alcohol, smoking, or drug use during pregnancy
  • environmental toxins, such as lead and mercury
  • infections, such as the TORCH infections or sexually transmitted diseases
  • malnutrition
  • Birth-related stresses may cause brain injury and result in mental retardation. Premature birth and low birth weight are often associated with mental retardation. Birth trauma and lack of oxygen may cause brain damage.

    Childhood infections, toxins, and accidents can also cause mental retardation. These include the following:

  • chickenpox, measles, and whooping cough
  • environmental toxins, such as lead and mercury
  • head injury
  • meningitis and encephalitis
  • near drowning
  • physical injuries from seizures
  • Factors related to poverty and cultural deprivation may also lead to mental retardation:

  • environmental hazards
  • lack of access to or inappropriate medical care
  • lack of nurturing and appropriate stimulation
  • living conditions that make exposure to diseases more likely
  • poor nutrition in early childhood


    Next section


    Mental Retardation: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Ann Reyes, Ph.D.
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 07/02/01

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