Tay-Sachs disease is a rare disorder passed from parents to child. In the most common form, a baby about 6 months old will begin to show symptoms. As the disease progresses, the child's body loses function, leading to blindness, deafness, paralysis and death. That happens because a fatty substance in the child's brain builds up to toxic levels and affects the child's nerve cells. There is no cure for Tay-Sachs disease. Gene therapy research may eventually lead to a cure or treatment to slow the progression of Tay-Sachs disease.

Tay-Sachs disease occurs most frequently among people whose ancestors come from Eastern and Central European Jewish communities (Ashkenazi Jews), from certain French Canadian communities in Quebec, and from the Cajun community of Louisiana. A child who inherits the gene from both parents develops Tay-Sachs disease.

If you have a family history of Tay-Sachs disease or if you're a member of a high-risk group and plan to have children, Mayo Clinic doctors strongly recommend genetic testing and genetic counseling.

Nov. 20, 2012