What is Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome?

child using a nebulizer because they have obesity hypoventilation syndrome

In order to perform all functions, all cells in the body rely on oxygen. Oxygen enters the body through inhalation and is delivered to the cells in exchange for carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is then exhaled out of the body. This process of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is called gas exchange. Any impact on the body’s ability to perform gas exchange can be severe and life-threatening. Children who have obesity are at risk for poor gas exchange performance, also known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS).

Obesity Hypoventilation

Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is an impact on the body’s gas exchange resulting in higher volumes of carbon dioxide in the body. In this state, the body is not breathing as often, which reduces the amount of oxygen entering the body and increases the amount of carbon dioxide. Patients with obesity hypoventilation syndrome may not be able to breathe as often or as deeply as children without obesity hypoventilation syndrome.  Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is a disease that only affects children with obesity. Physicians and researchers are unsure why obesity hypoventilation syndrome only presents in children with obesity.

Risk Factors and Symptoms of Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

Children with obesity hypoventilation syndrome are at risk for sleep apnea. When evaluating a child for sleep apnea, physicians should also examine the patient’s breathing.

Symptoms for Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrom and Sleep Apnea are:

  • Chronic and loud snoring
  • Choking or gasping sounds during sleep
  • Pauses in snoring
  • Fast and shallow breathing
  • Rapid shortness of breath during activity
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Concentration issues
  • Sleeping during the day
  • Headaches
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Obesity

Diagnosing Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

When evaluating a patient for obesity hypoventilation syndrome, physicians will evaluate for sleep apnea and rule out other diseases. Physicians may order various blood tests to rule out other diseases like thyroid conditions, lung disease, or heart disease. Physicians may perform electrocardiograms, chest x-rays, and sleep studies to get insight into the patient’s health state. To confirm the diagnosis, physicians will perform an arterial blood gas test to evaluate the gas exchange in the body.

Treating Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

It is essential to treat obesity hypoventilation syndrome as early as possible through weight loss for better outcomes. If left untreated, obesity hypoventilation syndrome can result in further damage to the body, including hypotension, heart failure, or secondary erythrocytosis.

Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is a very serious and life-threatening disorder. Parents who suspect their child has obesity hypoventilation syndrome should seek out treatment. The physicians and medical team at Newport Children’s Medical Group can help create a personalized treatment plan for any child with obesity hypoventilation.