Infantile Hypercalcaemia (Williams' Syndrome)

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PatientPlus articles are written by UK doctors and are based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. They are designed for health professionals to use, so you may find the language more technical than the condition leaflets.

Synonyms: WS; Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), chromosome 7q11.23 deletion syndrome

In 1961, Williams and colleagues described this disorder in four unrelated children with mental deficiency, an unusual facies and supravalvular aortic stenosis. Many more cases have been described since and the syndrome is characterised by cardiovascular disease, distinctive facies, connective tissue abnormalities, intellectual disability, a specific cognitive profile, unique personality characteristics, growth abnormalities and endocrine abnormalities.[1] 

It is a rare autosomal dominant disease, but the majority of cases occur de novo.

  • The estimated incidence of idiopathic infantile hypercalcaemia alone has remained constant for a period of 20 years, at approximately 18 cases per year in the UK - approximately 2 per 100,000 total live births.[2]
  • A study from Norway reported a prevalence of 1:7,500.[3] 
  • There is no racial predilection; however, the prevalence of particular features may vary among populations - eg, people living in Greece have a lower rate of cardiovascular anomalies.[4]
  • The deletion is equally prevalent in males and females. A greater severity and earlier presentation of cardiovascular disease may exist in males.[5]

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Infantile hypercalcaemia is a contiguous gene deletion syndrome caused by hemizygous deletion of 1.5 to 1.8 Mb on chromosome 7q11.23.[6] 

The affected area of chromosome is known as the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical region (WBSCR) and encompasses the elastin gene (ELN). Over 99% of individuals with clinical diagnosis of infantile hypercalcaemia have this continuous gene deletion, which can be detected using fluorescent in situ hybridisation (FISH) and or deletion/duplication testing.

Clinical manifestations of infantile hypercalcaemia are evident from birth through to adulthood.[7] 

The WS phenotype is variable and no single clinical feature is required to establish the diagnosis. It should be suspected in individuals with following findings:[1] 

  • Cardiovascular disease (elastin arteriopathy):
    • Supravalvular aortic stenosis (SVAS) is the most common and clinically significant condition occurring in 75% of individuals.
    • Peripheral pulmonic stenosis (PPS) is common in infancy, although any artery can be affected.
  • Distinctive facies:
    • Broad forehead, bitemporal narrowing, periorbital fullness.
    • Stellate iris pattern, strabismus.
    • Short nose with broad nasal tip.
    • Long philtrum, wide mouth with thick vermilion of upper and lower lips.
  • Connective tissue abnormalities:
    • Hoarse voice, inguinal/umbilical hernia.
    • Bowel/bladder diverticulae, rectal prolapse.
    • Joint limitation or laxity and soft lax skin.
  • Intellectual disability:
    • Most patients have intellectual disability ranging from mild to severe.
    • Some individuals have normal intelligence.
  • Specific cognitive profile:
    • Strength - verbal short-term memory and language.
    • Very poor visuospatial construction.
  • Unique personality:
    • Overly friendly and empathetic with excessive sociability.[8] 
    • Generalised anxiety, specific phobias and attention deficit.
  • Growth abnormalities:
    • Prenatal growth deficiency with failure to thrive in infancy.
    • Rate of linear growth is less than normal with resulting short stature.
  • Endocrine abnormalities:
    • Idiopathic hypercalcaemia and hypercalciuria.
    • Hypothyroidism and early puberty.
  • For pregnancies at risk for infantile hypercalcaemia, FISH testing may be used to detect the deletion of WBSCR in fetal cells obtained by chorionic villous sampling or amniocentesis.
  • For pregnancies not known to be at increased risk for infantile hypercalcaemia, prenatal testing is possible but rarely used.
  • Molecular genetic testing that detects deletion of WBSCR should be performed in patients in whom infantile hypercalcaemia is suspected. The options include FISH or deletion/duplication analysis.
  • Multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA) has recently been reported as an effective method to detect the deletion of WBSCR.[9] 
  • In addition, a routine chromosomal analysis and microarray should be performed.

Once a diagnosis of infantile hypercalcaemia has been made, a comprehensive evaluation should be carried out to define the systems affected and target medical management.[1] This includes:

    • Physical and neurological examination with developmental evaluation.
    • Cardiac evaluation including ECG and echocardiogram.
    • Urinary evaluation including ultrasound of bladder and kidneys and renal function tests.
    • Serum calcium and urinary calcium:creatinine ratio.
    • TFTs.
    • Ophthalmological and audiological evaluation.

Ideally, a multidisciplinary team should be involved.

General measures

  • These include early intervention programmes, education programmes and vocational training. Access to speech/language, physical, occupational and sensory integration therapies is also beneficial.
  • Infants often benefit from feeding therapy.
  • Psychological and psychiatric evaluation should guide therapy for the individual.
  • Referral to a nephrologist is necessary for management of nephrocalcinosis and persistent hypercalcaemia and/or hypercalciuria.

Pharmacological

  • Behavioural counselling and psychotropic medication are often used to manage behavioural problems, especially attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety.
  • Treatment of hypercalcaemia may include diet modification, oral corticosteroids and/or intravenous pamidronate.[10]
  • Children should not be given multivitamins because all paediatric multivitamin preparations contain vitamin D.

Surgical

  • Surgery may be required for supravalvular aortic stenosis in 20-30% of patients.[11] 
  • Surgical treatment of mitral valve insufficiency or renal artery stenosis may be required.

Ongoing management

  • Surveillance includes yearly: medical evaluation, vision screening, measurement of blood pressure, calculation of calcium:creatine ratio in a random spot urine test and urinalysis.[1]  
  • Additional periodic evaluations during childhood include: serum concentration of calcium, thyroid function, hearing and renal and bladder ultrasound examination.
  • Periodic evaluations during adulthood include: glucose tolerance, cardiac evaluation for mitral valve prolapse, aortic insufficiency and arterial stenosis and ophthalmological evaluation for cataracts.
  • Patients with infantile hypercalcaemia need lifelong medical attention.
  • During infancy, colic, sleep problems, recurrent ear infections and strabismus occur much more frequently than in the general population, prompting 10 extra visits to the doctor in the first year of life.
  • Premature greying of hair, diverticulosis, diabetes mellitus and sensorineural hearing loss commonly develop during adolescence or young adulthood.
  • Most adults with infantile hypercalcaemia require ongoing supervision both at home and at work.
  • Educational and employment attainments have been found generally to be low and self-help skills relatively poor.[13]
  • Cardiovascular complications are the major cause of death in infantile hypercalcaemia.
  • Aortic stenosis can lead to severe obstruction to left ventricular outflow, with left ventricular failure and, occasionally, sudden death.
  • Infantile hypercalcaemia is transmitted in an autosomal dominant manner. Most cases are de novo occurrences; however, occasionally, parent-to-child transmission is observed.
  • In the absence of clinical findings of infantile hypercalcaemia in the parents, FISH testing of parents is not warranted.
  • When the parents are clinically unaffected, the risk of having another sibling with infantile hypercalcaemia is low while if the parent is affected, the risk is 50%.

Further reading & references

  1. Morris CA et al; Williams Syndrome. SourceGeneReviews® [Internet]. Seattle (WA): University of Washington, Seattle; 1993-2015. 1999 Apr 09 [updated 2013 Jun 13].
  2. Martin ND, Snodgrass GJ, Cohen RD; Idiopathic infantile hypercalcaemia--a continuing enigma. Arch Dis Child. 1984 Jul;59(7):605-13.
  3. Stromme P, Bjornstad PG, Ramstad K; Prevalence estimation of Williams syndrome. J Child Neurol. 2002 Apr;17(4):269-71.
  4. Amenta S, Sofocleous C, Kolialexi A, et al; Clinical manifestations and molecular investigation of 50 patients with Williams syndrome in the Greek population. Pediatr Res. 2005 Jun;57(6):789-95. Epub 2005 Mar 17.
  5. Sadler LS, Pober BR, Grandinetti A, et al; Differences by sex in cardiovascular disease in Williams syndrome. J Pediatr. 2001 Dec;139(6):849-53.
  6. Williams-Beuren Syndrome, WBS (Infantile Hypercalcaemia); Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)
  7. Morris CA, Demsey SA, Leonard CO, et al; Natural history of Williams syndrome: physical characteristics. J Pediatr. 1988 Aug;113(2):318-26.
  8. Zitzer-Comfort C, Doyle T, Masataka N, et al; Nature and nurture: Williams syndrome across cultures. Dev Sci. 2007 Nov;10(6):755-62.
  9. Honjo RS, Dutra RL, Furusawa EA, et al; Williams-Beuren Syndrome: A Clinical Study of 55 Brazilian Patients and the Diagnostic Use of MLPA. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:903175. doi: 10.1155/2015/903175. Epub 2015 May 18.
  10. Cagle AP, Waguespack SG, Buckingham BA, et al; Severe infantile hypercalcemia associated with Williams syndrome successfully treated with intravenously administered pamidronate. Pediatrics. 2004 Oct;114(4):1091-5.
  11. Collins RT 2nd, Kaplan P, Somes GW, et al; Long-term outcomes of patients with cardiovascular abnormalities and williams syndrome. Am J Cardiol. 2010 Mar 15;105(6):874-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2009.10.069.
  12. Pober BR; Williams-Beuren syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2010 Jan 21;362(3):239-52. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra0903074.
  13. Howlin P, Udwin O; Outcome in adult life for people with Williams syndrome. Results from a survey of 239 families. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2006 Feb;50(Pt 2):151-60.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Dr Anjum Gandhi
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
2318 (v23)
Last Checked:
03/08/2015
Next Review:
01/08/2020

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