CHARGE Syndrome

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Disease Entity


CHARGE Syndrome is a rare genetic syndrome that produces a constellation of clinical features. The features are described in the name ‘CHARGE’ which stands for:

Coloboma of the eye

Heart defects

Atresia of the Nasal choanae

Retardation of growth and/or development

Genitourinary malformation

Ear abnormalities[1]

Another name for this syndrome is Hall-Hittner syndrome


The prevalence of CHARGE syndrome is reported in only 0.1-1.2 of10,000 live births. It is the leading cause of congenital deaf-blindness in the U.S. according to the National Consortium of Deaf-Blindness. In 2017, there were 933 children and youth identified as having CHARGE syndrome.[2]


CHARGE syndrome typically occurs as a new condition with no previous family history. It is due to a de novo mutation in the CHD7 gene located on chromosome 8q12.[3] The CHD7 gene provides instructions for making a protein that regulates gene expression by chromatin remodeling (chromatin remodeling alters how tightly DNA is packaged, which affects the rate of gene expression).[4] It was found that 90-95% of patients fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for CHARGE syndrome will have either a heterozygous mutation, or deletion affecting CHD7.[5] Most CHD7 gene mutations lead to the production of an abnormal CHD7 protein, which breaks down prematurely.[4] A shortage of this protein is thought to disrupt chromatin remodeling and thus, the regulation of gene expression. These changes in gene expression during embryonic development are thought likely to cause the signs and symptoms of CHARGE syndrome.

Clinical Features

Ophthalmic Abnormalities

Coloboma and other ophthalmic abnormalities are found in 75-90% of CHARGE patients.[6] The colobomas are typically chorioretinal (intra- and extra- macular) and optic nerve, but can also occur in the iris, and lens. In addition to visual impairment, colobomas predispose CHARGE syndrome patients to retinal detachment.[7] Other ophthalmic features that can occur in patients with CHARGE syndrome include microphthalmia, microcornea, cataracts, strabismus, cranial nerve VII palsy, and ptosis.[8] High refractive errors and amblyopia also occur in CHARGE syndrome.

Cardiac Abnormalities

Cardiac malformations are found in the 75-85% of patients with CHARGE syndrome.[9] Cardiac defects can include Tetralogy of Fallot, aortic arch interruption, double outlet right ventricle with arch vessel abnormalities, and atrioventricular septal defects (ASVD).[10]

Choanal Atresia and Upper Airway Abnormalities

Approximately 65% of patients with CHARGE syndrome may have obstructed breathing due to choanal atresia at birth.[11] Other upper airway abnormalities that can be seen in CHARGE syndrome patients include: laryngomalacia, tracheomalacia, tracheoesophageal fistula, and subglottic stenosis.[12]

Genitourinary Abnormalities

Genital hypoplasia is a common feature in patients with CHARGE Syndrome. This is secondary to hypogonadotropic hypogonadism.[13] Boys can have micropenis and cryptorchidism. Girls can have reduced clitoral size.[14] Additionally, patients can have renal abnormalities such as renal dysgenesis and duplex kidneys.[15]

Auditory Abnormalities

Patients may experience variable degrees of sensorineural hearing loss.[16] The most common ear abnormality is due to absence of lateral semicircular canals. It has also been reported that dysplasia of the vestibular canal can occur resulting in poor balance and delays in walking.[17]

Developmental Abnormalities

The majority of infants with CHARGE syndrome generally experience growth retardation.[18] In addition to growth abnormalities, CHARGE patients have impaired cognitive and communication ability. One study showed that 70% of CHARGE syndrome patients have an IQ less than 70.[19] Behaviorally, CHARGE syndrome individuals have been reported to engage in autistic-like social withdrawal, repetitive motor mannerisms, and have difficulty sleeping.[20]

Other Abnormalities

Other clinical findings in CHARGE include cranial nerve dysfunction, endocrine dysregulation, and recurrent infections. A significant majority of infants are found to have difficulty feeding, manifesting as weak sucking and chewing, swallowing difficulty, gastro-esophageal reflux, and chronic aspiration. These issues are likely due to cranial nerve dysfunction and 90% of those patients require tube feeding at some point.[21] Some patients are reported to have hypothyroidism.[22] CHARGE patients are also prone to recurrent suppurative ear and chest infections.[23]


  • CHARGE syndrome is diagnosed clinically, based on criteria summarized in current literature.[1] Blake criteria and Verloes criteria are two such diagnostic methods in identifying patients with CHARGE syndrome.
    • Verloes suggests eight clinical features to be used for major and minor signs of CHARGE syndrome. Major signs are weighted heavier since they are specific and are also the most prominent cranial abnormalities. Minor signs are used to help define CHARGE syndrome by primary, distinct, non-overlapping topographic areas.
      • Major signs are: Coloboma of the iris or choroid, atresia of choanae, and hypoplastic semicircular canals.
      • Minor signs are: rhombencephalic dysfunction, hypothalamo-hypophyseal dysfunction, abnormal middle or external ear, malformation of mediastinal organs, and mental retardation.
      • The typical CHARGE syndrome diagnosis requires 3 major signs or 2 major signs with 2 or more minor signs.
      • The diagnosis of partial or incomplete CHARGE syndrome is made with 2 major signs and 1 minor sign.
      • Atypical CHARGE diagnosis consists of 2 major signs and no minor signs, or 1 major sign and 3 or more minor signs.
      • This methodology includes more CHARGE syndrome diagnoses that were previously classified as “possibly CHARGE syndrome” using previous diagnostic criteria.[24]
  • Genetic analysis can also be performed to help diagnose CHARGE syndrome, and it is often carried out to confirm a diagnosis. The mutation of CHD7 on chromosome 8q12 has been shown to be present in approximately 60% of patients with a clinical CHARGE diagnosis, revealing that the genetic marker identification may be only 60% accurate, or that 40% of the clinically diagnosed CHARGE syndrome patients do not have “genetic CHARGE syndrome”.[25][26] However, another study suggests that patients with a CHARGE diagnosis using Blake and/or Verloes clinical classification that excludes atypical CHARGE syndrome diagnosis can reach as high as 90% correlation with genetic analysis.[5]

Differential diagnosis

  • 22q11.2 deletion syndrome
  • Oculo‐auriculo‐vertebral spectrum
  • VACTERL association
  • Kabuki syndrome
  • Teratogen‐related embryopathies.[1][9]


Management of children with CHARGE syndrome requires a detailed, multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals to address a number of life-threatening medical conditions, as well as the developmental and behavioral abnormalities. Patients require early intervention with occupational, speech, and physical therapy, and low vision intervention to ensure that they maximize their potential.

Ophthalmologic Management

A detailed pediatric ophthalmologic examination is critical for documenting the presence and degree and location of colobomas and identifying other ocular abnormalities that may be present (eg. refractive errors and ocular surface disease ) to ensure they are addressed in a timely manner. Performing a visual acuity exam to assess for vision function is also very important. Chorioretinal colobomas are the most common type of coloboma in CHARGE syndrome, and the most worrisome complication of chorioretinal coloboma is retinal detachment. Treatment for chorioretinal retinal detachment is pars plana vitrectomy using silicone oil (versus gas filling) to reducing recurrent retinal detachment.[27] Another study suggests prophylactic laser photocoagulation to prevent rhegmatogenous retinal detachment for chorioretinal coloboma.[28]

Other ophthalmic symptoms such as photophobia can be treated with tinted glasses. Cranial nerve abnormalities such as facial nerve palsy may be treated with a lubrication regimen and ultimately surgical intervention.[1]

Behavioral and Developmental Management

Early developmental interventions are crucial. It is recommended that patients be taught sign language as well as expressive language development with the aim of adapting patients to their disabilities and maximizing overall function.[29] It is important to maximize all vision and hearing potential.

Cardiology Management

A cardiologist should be involved in the care of these patients. Echocardiography should be performed in all children.[1]

Otolaryngology Management

Severity and etiology of hearing loss (conductive vs. sensorineural) should be assessed using audiometry. Hearing aids and when indicated, cochlear implants, should be considered depending on severity of deafness.

Gastrointestinal Management

Management with a gastroenterologist is indicated in CHARGE patients with feeding problems and chronic aspiration. It is important to address the feeding concerns in a timely manner. Gastrostomy or jejunostomy may be indicated to overcome feeding problems in infants.[21]


CHARGE syndrome is a rare genetic syndrome that affects numerous organ systems. Diagnosis is based on clinical findings using either the Blake or Verloes Criteria. Management involves early intervention by a multidisciplinary team involving various specialists.

Additional Resources

  • CHARGE syndrome: National Library of Medicine (US). Genetics Home Reference [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): Health Conditions; 2019 Feb. CHARGE syndrome; [reviewed 2017 Feb; cited 2019 Nov 27]; Available from: Accessed November 27, 2019.


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  4. 4.0 4.1 Last accessed April 4, 2020.
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