Williams Syndrome Treatment & Management

Updated: Jan 14, 2015
  • Author: Joanna Lazier, MD; Chief Editor: Howard S Weber, MD, FSCAI  more...
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Medical Care

Williams syndrome is a complex multisystem medical condition that requires a multidisciplinary team. A few large tertiary care centers have Williams syndrome clinics, which help organize and coordinate the care of patients with Williams syndrome. Williams Syndrome Associations are available in the United States and Canada and are a valuable resource for both parents and health care professionals.

Tailor specific management of Williams syndrome to the presenting clinical spectrum. Initial care often centers on failure to thrive, hypercalcemia, or repair of the cardiac lesion. School performance, physical therapy, hyperactivity, and the child's eventual role in society are long-term issues that need to be addressed on an ongoing basis. Anticipatory guidance is essential to help parents prepare for future needs of children with Williams syndrome. Anticipatory care guidelines and growth curves for children with Williams syndrome are available through the American Academy of Pediatrics. [84]

Hypercalcemia, which is noted in approximately 15% of patients with Williams syndrome, is frequently asymptomatic and resolves in the first few years of life but can be lifelong. Signs and symptoms of hypercalcemia, in addition to blood calcium levels, should be periodically monitored throughout life and prior to the administration of any anesthetic or sedative agent and prior to any invasive procedure. Symptomatic hypercalcemia can present with decreased feeding, irritability, and severe colic in infants and may require multidisciplinary management through restriction of calcium, vitamin D intakes (including vitamin formulations), specialized formulas and some patients may require bisphosphonates or steroids to control elevated calcium levels. [85, 86] For more information, see Hypercalcemia.

The goal of managing calcium and vitamin D levels is to monitor and achieve levels in the normal range for age at intakes adequate for bone growth. The need for dietary manipulation and medication to control hypercalcemia should be frequently monitored because long-term unrestricted use of a low calcium, low vitamin D formula has been reported to lead to rickets in a patient with Williams syndrome. [87]

Nephrocalcinosis and sclerosis of the long bones are occasionally observed.

Systemic hypertension should be treated when identified, and surveillance should include annual blood pressure measurements in both arms. For more information see the eMedicine topic in pediatrics for Hypertension or Neonatal Hypertension.

Periodically assess visual problems and hearing loss. Acoustic-visual-behavioral training has been reported to improve symptoms of hyperacusis in an adult. [88] Recurrent otitis media may be treated with placement of tympanostomy tubes.

Patients with short stature should have a bone age assessment and be referred to an endocrinologist for assessment and management of growth hormone deficiency.

Monitor for signs of precocious puberty and arrange referrals with an endocrinologist as necessary. [89] Treatment with gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists may be considered.

Feeding difficulties in children are common, and referral to a gastroenterologist should be considered.

Thyroid function and glucose tolerance testing should be part of the periodic evaluation.

Early involvement of dentist is suggested.


Surgical Care

For cardiac findings in children with Williams syndrome, early involvement with a pediatric cardiologist and cardiothoracic surgeon is essential.

Supravalvar aortic stenosis (SVAS) is the most frequently observed operable cardiac lesion in Williams syndrome. SVAS may be progressive in some individuals, and life-long cardiac follow-up is recommended. [90] Surgery is generally required in 20%-30% of patients. [91]

Timing of the operative repair depends on the presence of cardiac symptoms, the gradient across the supraaortic obstruction, and whether ischemic changes are noted on a stress test. Peripheral branch pulmonary stenosis usually spontaneously resolves and generally should not be treated with catheter or surgical intervention.

In general, the degree of supraaortic obstruction in Williams syndrome patients tends to progress over time, whereas peripheral branch pulmonary stenosis improves over time.



Williams syndrome requires the attention of multiple health care professionals, depending on the specific phenotypic manifestations. Many large tertiary care centers have Williams syndrome clinics that help organize and coordinate the care of patients with Williams syndrome.

For cardiac findings in children with Williams syndrome, early involvement of a pediatric cardiologist and cardiothoracic surgeon is essential.

An anesthesiologist should be consulted prior to administration of anesthetics. Sedation should be administered only by physicians experienced in pediatric procedural sedation.

Geneticists, dentists, ophthalmologists, orthopedists, physical and occupational therapists, and psychologists all contribute to the care of the patient with Williams syndrome. Patients may benefit from music therapy. [92]

Parents of children with Williams syndrome should be offered genetic counseling to review their recurrence risks and options for prenatal diagnosis. If neither parent is affected with Williams syndrome, the risk of having another affected child with Williams syndrome is usually less than 1%. However, recurrences of Williams syndrome have been reported, even with unaffected parents, because of apparent germline mosaicism. [80]

Patients with Williams syndrome are considered to be fertile. If one parent is affected with Williams syndrome, the risk for having an affected child is typically 50% because the deletion behaves in an autosomal dominant manner. When of appropriate age, affected children should receive genetic counseling prior to considering having children of their own.

Women with Williams syndrome who are considering pregnancy or who are pregnant should be referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for close monitoring. In particular, a pregnant woman with Williams syndrome should be monitored for hypertension, hypercalcemia, and cardiovascular and other complications. [81]