Conjoined twins are rare, but we now know more about how long they can live and what factors influence their lives. Though most conjoined twins aren’t born alive, the ones who are could have many years ahead.
How long do conjoined twins live? There’s no easy answer to this question because it depends on a variety of factors. Ronnie and Donnie Gaylon lived until they were 68 years old and just passed away in 2020. However, this is rare. Many conjoined twins don’t live past their first birthdays.
With conjoined twins, there are no guarantees. Every small detail can impact how long they live or if they even survive the pregnancy.
Conjoined Twins Lifespan
Every step of the way is a risk for conjoined twins. They have obstacles to overcome at every turn to simply survive, and the odds are often against them.
Percentage of Conjoined Twins Who Survive Pregnancy
It’s not easy to know how many conjoined twins are lost in the womb. You may miscarry before you know you’re pregnant, so there is no way to count for those losses.
However, from what can be calculated, around half of pregnancies involving conjoined twins won’t result in a live birth.
Miscarriage can occur due to abnormalities that make growth and development in the womb impossible. This is a very real chance with conjoined twins.
Percentage of Conjoined Twins Who Survive Birth
Surviving life in the womb is only the first hurdle. Even with a surgical birth that gives them the best chance at survival, between 40 and 60 percent of conjoined twins are stillborn.
Premature labor often occurs with conjoined twins, and even efforts to stop it may prove futile. The complications of being conjoined can also cause both twins to be stillborn.
Percentage of Conjoined Twins Who Survive the First Few Days
Around 35 percent of conjoined twins die within the early days of life. Sharing essential organs may make it impossible to sustain them.
While doctors will do everything they can, it’s not always possible to save both twins, and the death of one means the death of the other if separation is not an option.
Premature birth can also play a role in early deaths for conjoined twins.
Percentage of Conjoined Twins Who Survive the First Year
Around 200 sets of conjoined twins make it out of the womb alive each year. Half of them will die before their first birthday.
Some conjoined twins die during surgical attempts to separate them while others simply succumb to complications their joint organs can’t handle.
They may develop health conditions that can’t be treated properly, and this can also contribute to early death.
Percentage of Conjoined Twins Who Survive Childhood
There is no available data on conjoined twins who survive childhood. There are likely less than 12 sets of conjoined twins in the entire world that we know about. That means most conjoined twins likely do not survive childhood.
Percentage of Conjoined Twins Who Survive Separation
Not all conjoined twins can be separated. If they are sharing a major organ needed for both of them to function, then separating them is not an option.
For conjoined twins who can be separated, about 60 percent will survive. Sometimes one twin will make it through the surgery while the other one does not, and other times neither one survives.
Conjoined Twins Life Expectancy
There are so few conjoined twins living in the world that an average life expectancy isn’t easy to calculate. While some twins have lived into their 60s, others have died much earlier.
Illnesses, complications from being conjoined, and a ton of other factors can affect how long conjoined twins live. Sharing organs that prohibit them from being separated puts conjoined twins at risk for early death.
Conjoined Twins Overall Survival Rate
Current research puts the overall survival rate for conjoined twins around 8 percent. Whether it’s complications from pregnancy and birth or a separation surgery that goes wrong, the chance of death is much higher for conjoined twins.
Influencing Factors That Affect Conjoined Twins’ Survival Rate
Not all conjoined twins have the same chances of survival. There are factors that affect each pair and can influence how long they live.
Type of Conjoined Twins
There are eight types of conjoined twins. What type of conjoined twins you have can have a major impact on their survival rate.
Certain types of conjoined twins are more likely to share organs that make a surgical split impossible.
Though some conjoined twins can live without being separated, others will struggle to live supported by organs that aren’t capable of supporting two people.
Quality of Care
Ideally, you will know you’re having conjoined twins early in your pregnancy and have access to the best possible care during your pregnancy.
Following pregnancy, your children will hopefully be at a hospital with a specialist who knows how to care for conjoined twins and whether separating them is a good idea. However, this isn’t always the case.
Many women don’t get the prenatal care they need when carrying one baby due to medical costs. Caring for a woman carrying conjoined twins is something most OBs have not dealt with, so specialists will need to get involved.
If your babies live through the pregnancy and birth, you will need to make sure they are at a hospital with a doctor who has all the latest information on conjoined twins. Again, this isn’t an option for everyone due to prohibitive costs or location.
What Is the Longest Conjoined Twins Have Lived?
Recently, Ronnie and Donnie Gaylon held the title of longest-living twins. They lived to be 68 years old and could not be separated due to the risks involved.
They died in 2020, and Lori and George Schappell are now the oldest living conjoined twins at 60 years old.
How Are Conjoined Twins Born?
Conjoined twins are born by C-section. They cannot exit the womb vaginally at the same time without harming the mother and themselves, so a C-section is the only option.
Though many conjoined twins don’t make it through pregnancy, others do. These twins may have a chance at years of life and go on to live meaningful, fulfilling lives.
Kristy is the mother of four, including identical twins. With a background in education and research, she is constantly learning more about parenting and raising multiples. When she has spare time, she enjoys hiking into the woods with a great book to take a break.