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Am J Med Genet C Semin Med Genet. 2003 Feb 15;117C(1):3-14.

Diagnostic evaluation of developmental delay/mental retardation: An overview.

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Division of Pediatric Neurology and Psychiatry, Department of Procreative Medicine and Pediatrics, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.


Mental retardation (MR) is one of the few clinically important disorders for which the etiopathogenesis is still poorly understood. It is a condition of great concern for public health and society. MR is currently defined as a significant impairment of cognitive and adaptive functions, with onset before age 18 years. It may become evident during infancy or early childhood as developmental delay (DD), but it is best diagnosed during the school years. MR is estimated to occur in 1-10% of the population, and research on its etiology has always been a challenge in medicine. The etiopathogenesis encompasses so many different entities that the attending physician can sometimes feel a "virtual panic," starting a wide-range diagnostic evaluation. The Consensus Conference of the American College of Medical Genetics has recently established guidelines regarding the evaluation of patients with MR [Curry et al., 1997], emphasizing the high diagnostic utility of cytogenetic studies and neuroimaging in certain clinical settings. However, since then there has been substantial progress in molecular cytogenetics and neuroimaging techniques, the use of which has allowed recognition and definition of new disorders, thus increasing the diagnostic yield. This review will focus on the most appropriate investigations shown to be, at present, necessary to define the etiology of DD/MR, in the context of recommendations for the clinical evaluation of the patient with undiagnosed MR.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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