Klinefelter syndrome

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Klinefelter Syndrome



Klinefelter syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that affects only males. People with this condition are born with at least one extra X chromosome. The syndrome was first identified and described in 1942 by Harry Fitch Klinefelter, Jr., an American physician.


Klinefelter syndrome is a condition in which one or more extra X chromosomes are present in a male. Boys with this condition appear normal at birth. They enter puberty normally, but by mid puberty have low levels of testosterone causing small testicles and the inability to make sperm. Affected males may also have learning disabilities and behavior problems such as shyness and immaturity, and an increased risk for certain other health problems.
Klinefelter syndrome is one of the most common chromosomal abnormalities. About 1 in every 500 to 800 males is born with this disorder; approximately 3000 affected boys are born each year in the United States. About 3% of the infertile male population have Klinefelter syndrome. The condition appears to affect all racial and ethnic groups equally.

Causes and symptoms

Chromosomes are found in the cells in the body. Chromosomes contain genes, structures that tell the body how to grow and develop. Chromosomes are responsible for passing on hereditary traits from parents to child. Chromosomes also determine whether the child will be male or female. Normally, a person has a total of 46 chromosomes in each cell, two of which are responsible for determining that individual's sex. These two sex chromosomes are called X and Y. The combination of these two types of chromosomes determines the sex of a child. Females have two X chromosomes (the XX combination); males have one X and one Y chromosome (the XY combination).
In Klinefelter syndrome, a problem very early in development results in an abnormal number of chromosomes. About 60% of embryos with Klinefelter syndrome do not survive the fetal period. Most commonly, a male with Klinefelter syndrome will be born with 47 chromosomes in each cell, rather than the normal number of 46. The extra chromosome is an X chromosome. This means that rather than having the normal XY combination, the male has an XXY combination. Because people with Klinefelter syndrome have a Y chromosome, they are all male.
Approximately 1/3 of all males with Klinefelter syndrome have other chromosomal abnormalities involving an extra X chromosome. Mosaic Klinefelter syndrome occurs when some of the cells in the body have an extra X chromosome and the others have normal male chromosomes. These males can have the same or milder symptoms than non-mosaic Klinefelter syndrome. Males with more than one additional extra X chromosome, such as 48,XXXY, are usually more severely affected than males with 47,XXY.
Klinefelter syndrome is not considered an inherited condition. The risk of Klinefelter syndrome reoccurring in another pregnancy is not increased above the general population risk.
The symptoms of Klinefelter syndrome are variable and not every affected person will have all of the features of the condition. Males with Klinefelter syndrome appear normal at birth and have normal male genitalia. From childhood, males with Klinefelter syndrome are taller than average with long limbs. Approximately 20-50% have a mild intention tremor, an uncontrolled shaking. Many males with Klinefelter syndrome have poor upper body strength and can be clumsy. Klinefelter syndrome does not cause homosexuality. Approximately 1/3 of males with Klinefelter syndrome have gynecomastia or breast growth, some requiring breast reduction surgery.
Most boys enter puberty normally, though some can be delayed. The Leydig cells in the testicles usually produce testosterone. With Klinefelter syndrome, the Leydig cells fail to work properly causing the testosterone production to slow. By mid-puberty, testosterone production is decreased to approximately half of normal. This can lead to decreased facial and pubic hair growth. The decreased testosterone also causes an increase in two other hormones, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Normally, FSH and LH help the immature sperm cells grow and develop. In Klinefelter syndrome, there are few or no sperm cells. The increased amount of FSH and LH causes hyalinization and fibrosis, the growth of excess fibrous tissue, in the seminiferous tubules, where the sperm are normally located. As a result, the testicles appear smaller and firmer than normal. With rare exception, men with Klinefelter syndrome are infertile because they can not make sperm.
While it was once believed that all boys with Klinefelter syndrome are mentally retarded, doctors now know that the disorder can exist without retardation. However, children with Klinefelter syndrome frequently have difficulty with language, including learning to speak, read, and write. Approximately 50% of males with Klinefelter syndrome are dyslexic.
Some people with Klinefelter syndrome have difficulty with social skills and tend to be more shy, anxious, or immature than their peers. They can also have poor judgment and do not handle stressful situations well. As a result, they often do not feel comfortable in large social gatherings. Some people with Klinefelter syndrome can also have anxiety, nervousness and/or depression.
The greater the number of X chromosomes present, the greater the disability; each extra X chromosome lowers the child's IQ by about 15 points. Boys with several extra X-chromosomes have distinctive facial features, more severe retardation, deformities of bony structures, and even more disordered development of male features.


Diagnosis of Klinefelter syndrome is made by examining chromosomes for evidence of more than one X chromosome present in a male. This can be done in pregnancy with prenatal testing such as a chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis. Chorionic villus sampling is a procedure done early in pregnancy (approximately 10-12 weeks) to obtain a small sample of the placenta for testing. An amniocentesis is done further along in pregnancy (from approximately 16-18 weeks) to obtain a sample of fluid surrounding the baby for testing. Both procedures have a risk of miscarriage. Usually these procedures are done for a reason other than diagnosing Klinefelter syndrome. For example, a prenatal diagnostic procedure may be done on an older woman to determine if her baby has Down syndrome. If the diagnosis of Klinefelter syndrome is suspected in a young boy or adult male, chromosome testing can also be on a small blood or skin sample after birth.
Many men with Klinefelter syndrome go through life without being diagnosed. The two most common complaints leading to diagnosis of the condition are gynecomastia and infertility.


There is no treatment available as of the early 2000s to change a person's chromosomal makeup. Children with Klinefelter syndrome may benefit from speech therapy for speech problems or other educational interventions for learning disabilities. Testosterone injections started around the time of puberty may help to produce more normal development including more muscle mass, hair growth and increased sex drive. Testosterone supplementation will not increase testicular size, decrease breast growth or correct infertility. Psychiatric consultation may be helpful when the boy reaches adolescence.
Some doctors recommend mastectomy as a surgical treatment for gynecomastia, on the grounds that the enlarged breasts are often socially stressful for affected males and significantly increase their risk of breast cancer.


While many men with Klinefelter syndrome go on to live normal lives, nearly 100% of these men will be sterile (unable to produce a child). However, a few men with Klinefelter syndrome have been reported who have fathered a child through the use of assisted fertility services.
Males with Klinefelter syndrome have an increased risk of several systemic conditions, including epilepsy, osteoporosis, such autoimmune disorders as lupus and arthritis, diabetes, and breast and germ cell tumors. One Danish study reported in 2004 that men with Klinefelter's syndrome have a slightly shortened life span, dying about 2.1 years earlier than men without the syndrome.

Key terms

Chromosome — A microscopic thread-like structure found within each cell of the body and consists of a complex of proteins and DNA. Humans have 46 chromosomes arranged into 23 pairs. Changes in either the total number of chromosomes or their shape and size (structure) may lead to physical or mental abnormalities.
Gonadotrophin — Hormones that stimulate the ovary and testicles.
Gynecomastia — Excessive growth of breast tissue in males.
Leydig cells — Cells that make up the endocrine tissue of the testis and produce testosterone. They are named for Franz von Leydig (1821–1908), the German professor of anatomy who first identified them.
Testosterone — Hormone produced in the testicles that is involved in male secondary sex characteristics.



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Beers, Mark H., MD, and Robert Berkow, MD., editors. "Infertility." Section 18, Chapter 245 In The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2004.
Probasco, Teri, and Gretchen A. Gibbs. Klinefelter Syndrome. Richmond, IN: Prinit Press, 1999.


Bojesen, A., S. Juul, N. Birkebaek, and C. H. Gravholt. "Increased Mortality in Klinefelter Syndrome." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 89 (August 2004): 3830-3834.
Chen, Harold, MD. "Klinefelter Syndrome." eMedicine December 17, 2004. http://emedicine.com/ped/topic1252.htm.
Diamond, M., and L. A. Watson. "Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and Klinefelter's Syndrome: Sex and Gender Considerations." Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 13 (July 2004): 623-640.
Grosso, S., M. A. Farnetani, R. M. Di Bartolo, et al. "Electroencephalographic and Epileptic Patterns in X Chromosome Anomalies." Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology 21 (July-August 2004): 249-253.
Lanfranco, F., A. Kamischke, M. Zitzmann, and E. Nieschlag. "Klinefelter's Syndrome." Lancet 364 (July 17, 2004): 273-283.
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Klinefelter's Organization. PO Box 60, Orpington, BR68ZQ. UK. 〈http://hometown.aol.com/KSCUK/index.htm〉.
Klinefelter Syndrome and Associates, Inc. PO Box 119, Roseville, CA 95678-0119. (916) 773-2999 or (888) 999-9428. Fax: (916) 773-1449. ksinfo@genetic.org. http://www.genetic.org/ks.
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). 55 Kenosia Avenue, P. O. Box 1968, Danbury, CT 06813-1968. (203) 744-0100. Fax: (203) 798-2291. http://www.rarediseases.org.


Klinefelter Syndrome Support Group Home Page. 〈http://klinefeltersyndrome.org/index.html〉.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Kline·fel·ter syn·drome

a chromosomal anomaly with chromosome count 47, XXY sex chromosome constitution; buccal and other cells are usually sex chromatin positive; patients are male in development but have seminiferous tubule dysgenesis resulting in azospenmia and infertility, elevated plasma and urinary gonadotropins, variable gynecomastia, and eunuchoid habitus; some patients have chromosomal mosaic syndrome, with two or more cell lines of different chromosome constitution; the male tortoise-shell cat (calico cat) is an animal model.
Synonym(s): XXY syndrome
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

Klinefelter syndrome

A condition in which a person has one Y-chromosome and two (or more) X-chromosomes, usually characterized by low testosterone levels, small testicles, tall stature and long limbs, sparse body hair, and infertility.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Klinefelter syndrome

A syndrome with a 47, XXY chromosome complement, in which the subjects are phenotypically male but have seminiferous tubule dysgenesis, elevated plasma and urinary gonadotropins, variable gynecomastia, eunuchoid habitus and possibly female secondary sex characteristics. Some patients are chromosomal mosaics, with two or more cell lines of different chromosome constitution.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.

Klinefelter syndrome

XXY gonadal dysgenesis An inherited condition caused by an extra complete–most commonly–or partial X chromosome; it is the most common cause of 1º ♂ hypogonadism Clinical Often asymptomatic; may first come to medical attention for infertility, complaints of inadequate androgenization, small testes, ↓ production of testosterone, and infertility; other features of KS: cryptorchidism, subnormal intelligence, bone defects, long-limbed, long-trunked, relatively tall, slim build, little facial hair growth; one-third develop gynecomastia Management Secondary sex characteristics are usually poorly developed and do not respond well to testosterone
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Kline·fel·ter syn·drome

(klīn'fel-tĕr sin'drōm)
Anomaly in males with chromosome count 47, XXY sex chromosome constitution; usually have seminiferous tubule dysgenesis, elevated urinary gonadotropins, gynecomastia, and eunuchoid habitus.
Synonym(s): XXY syndrome.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


Harry Fitch, Jr., U.S. physician, 1912–.
Klinefelter syndrome - a chromosomal anomaly in which patients are male in development but have seminiferous tubule dysgenesis, elevated urinary gonadotropins, variable gynecomastia, and eunuchoid habitus. Synonym(s): XXY syndrome
Medical Eponyms © Farlex 2012

Kline·fel·ter syn·drome

(klīn'fel-tĕr sin'drōm)
Chromosomal anomaly; buccal and other cells are usually sex chromatin positive; patients are male in development but have seminiferous tubule dysgenesis resulting in azospermia and infertility.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012

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