CHARGE Syndrome

CHARGE syndrome is a rare genetic condition with autosomal dominant inheritance in which almost all body systems are affected. The acronym CHARGE stands for the constellation of clinical features seen with this condition: Coloboma, Heart defects, Atresia choanae, Growth retardation, Genetic Abnormalities, and Ear abnormalities. Genetic testing confirms the diagnosis. Treatment is symptomatic with management of the airway, heart defects, and feeding ability as the priorities in early life. There is no definitive curative therapy.

Last update:

Table of Contents

Share this concept:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

Epidemiology and Genetics


  • Incidence: 1 in 12,000–15,000 newborns
  • Mortality is highest during neonatal period.


  • Most commonly due to loss of function mutation in CHD7 gene 
    • Produces the CHD7 protein, involved in chromatin remodeling
    • Chromatin remodeling controls the gene expression. 
    • The defective CHD7 protein breaks down prematurely. 
    • Results in a disrupted chromatin remodeling and poor gene expression 
    • Neural crest differentiation into various structures throughout the body is impaired.
  • Inheritance pattern: autosomal dominant 
  • May be familial, but more often results from de novo (idiopathic) mutations
  • Advanced paternal age possibly a risk factor

Clinical Presentation

Characteristic symptoms

CHARGE is an acronym to describe the clinical presentation of this syndrome: 

  • C for Coloboma (a hole in the choroid, retina, iris, and/or optic disc)
    • Unilateral or bilateral
    • Impairment of vision depending on the location and size 
    • May also present with microphthalmia
  • H for Heart defects (60%–70% of cases) 
    • Coarctation of the aorta
    • Aortic valve stenosis
    • Tetralogy of Fallot
    • Patent ductus arteriosus
  • A for Atresia of the choanae (choanal atresia)
    • Bony and/or membranous tissue blocks back of nasal passageway.
    • Inability to pass nasogastric tube is noted.
  • R for growth Retardation (60%–70% of cases)
    • Noticeable in the first 6 months of life
    • May be noted in utero
    • Short stature
    • Due to growth hormone (GH) deficiency and a gonadotropin deficiency
  • G for Genital abnormalities 
    • Hypogonadotropic hypogonadism
    • Micropenis, cryptorchidism
    • Labial dysplasia
  • E for Ear abnormalities (100% of cases)
    • Hypoplastic semicircular canals are pathognomonic.
    • External ear is small, low-set, and square-shaped with protruding helices.
    • Developmental defects of the middle and inner ear → hearing impairment 

Associated conditions

  • Additional facial dysmorphic features: square face, facial nerve palsy, malar flattening, micrognathia, orofacial clefting
  • Skeletal anomalies such as scoliosis, polydactyly, oligodactyly, or clubfoot
  • Tracheoesophageal fistula
  • Feeding and swallowing difficulties/under-nutrition
  • Neurological anomalies 
  • Intellectual disability and developmental delay
  • Renal anomalies


Diagnostic criteria

The diagnosis of CHARGE syndrome can be established if 2 major criteria plus any number of minor criteria are present.

  • 4 major criteria (4 Cs):
    1. Coloboma
    2. Choanal atresia or cleft palate
    3. Characteristic external, middle, or inner ear anomalies including hypoplastic semicircular canals
    4. CHD7 variant (pathogenic)
  • 7 minor criteria:
    1. Cranial nerve dysfunction including hearing loss
    2. Dysphagia/feeding difficulties
    3. Structural brain anomalies
    4. Developmental delay/intellectual disability/autism
    5. Hypothalamo-hypophyseal dysfunction (including hormonal deficiencies) and genital anomalies
    6. Heart or esophageal malformations
    7. Renal/skeletal/limb anomalies

Laboratory tests

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Renal function tests
  • Hormonal analysis (↓ growth hormone, ↓ gonadotrophins)
  • Immunological studies

Imaging studies

  • Ultrasonography (US): 
    • Cranial US: done during neonatal period to exclude major brain malformations
    • Abdominal US: to exclude renal abnormalities
  • Echocardiography: valvular abnormalities and structural heart defects
  • Barium swallow: esophageal dysmotility
  • Chest radiographs: to detect cardiopulmonary abnormalities
  • Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): forebrain anomalies, cerebral atrophy, midbrain defects
Severe basal ganglia EPVS

Magnetic resonance imaging showing cerebral atrophy from mild (A) to moderate (B) to severe (C) stages

Image: “EPVS” by Department of Neurology, Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China. License: CC BY 4.0

Other tests

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Audiometry
  • Ophthalmologic exam
  • Psychological and educational assessments

Management and Prognosis


Various supportive and corrective treatment options are available. Treatment is tailored to the symptoms and anomalies present. 

  • Medical treatment:
    • Oxygen supplementation for cyanotic heart disease
    • Nasogastric feeding for swallowing difficulties
    • Artificial tears for facial palsy to avoid scarring of a cornea
    • Hearing aids/cochlear implants
    • Durable medical equipment such as braces or wheelchairs to help with mobility
    • Androgen therapy given in some cases for penile growth
    • Physical therapy to help with mobility
    • Speech therapy as needed
  • Surgical treatment:
    • Tracheostomy (tube placement into the trachea to stabilize air passage)
    • Gastrostomy (tube placement into the stomach for feeding)
    • Myringotomy (tube placement into the tympanic membrane for otitis media)


  • Mortality is higher in the neonatal period and early infancy due to:
    • Cyanotic heart disease
    • Bilateral choanal atresia
    • Esophageal atresia 
    • Central nervous system (CNS) anomalies
  • Treatment is necessary for survival, but no curative treatments are available.

Differential Diagnosis

  • VACTERL association: a disorder that affects multiple body systems in fetal development. VACTERL is the acronym for the constellation of clinical features seen with this condition: Vertebral defects, Anal atresia, Cardiac defects, Tracheoesophageal fistula, Renal anomalies, and Limb abnormalities. The disorder appears to occur sporadically with no clear inheritance pattern. Cognition is not affected. The disorder is a diagnosis of exclusion in the setting of the presence of at least 3 of the above clinical features. Treatment is conservative and surgical based on symptoms and abnormalities. 
  • Kallmann syndrome: a genetic condition that causes hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and impaired sense of smell. Mutations in the same gene (CHD7) implicated in CHARGE syndrome have been seen in those with Kallmann syndrome. Given the overlap, individuals with suspected Kallmann syndrome may have similar features to that of CHARGE syndrome, albeit much milder, and should undergo additional screening. Genetic testing with gene sequencing helps with diagnosis and differentiation.


  1. Van Ravenswaaij-Arts, C. & Martin, Donna M.(2017). New insights and advances in CHARGE syndrome: Diagnosis, etiologies, treatments, and research discoveries. Am J Med Genet C Semin Med Genet. 175(4): 397–406. Published online 2017 Nov 24. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.c.31592
  2. CHARGE Syndrome. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). Retrieved December 2, 2020. URL:
  3. Jongmans, M.C., et al.  (2006). CHARGE syndrome: the phenotypic spectrum of mutations in the CHD7 gene. J Med Genet. 43(4): 306–314.Published online 2005 Oct 14. doi: 10.1136/jmg.2005.036061
  4. Dijk, D. R., Bocca, G., & van Ravenswaaij-Arts, C. M. (2019). Growth in CHARGE syndrome: optimizing care with a multidisciplinary approach. J Multidiscip Healthc.12: 607–620. Published online 2019 Aug 1. doi: 10.2147/JMDH.S175713
  5. Jongmans M.C., van Ravenswaaij-Arts C.M., Pitteloud N., et al. (2009). CHD7 mutations in patients initially diagnosed with Kallmann syndrome–the clinical overlap with CHARGE syndrome. Clinical Genetics. 75(1):65-71. DOI: 10.1111/j.1399-0004.2008.01107.x.
  6. Blake, K. M., Prasad, C. (2015). Orphanet: CHARGE syndrome.  Retrieved December 9, 2020, from

Study on the Go

Lecturio Medical complements your studies with evidence-based learning strategies, video lectures, quiz questions, and more – all combined in one easy-to-use resource.

Learn even more with Lecturio:

Complement your med school studies with Lecturio’s all-in-one study companion, delivered with evidence-based learning strategies.

🍪 Lecturio is using cookies to improve your user experience. By continuing use of our service you agree upon our Data Privacy Statement.