Many of the possible complications of Prader-Willi syndrome result from obesity. In addition to having constant hunger, people with the disorder have low muscle mass, so they require fewer than average calories. This combination of factors makes a person prone to obesity and the medical problems related to obesity, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes affects the way your body metabolizes blood sugar (glucose), due to your body's inability to use insulin efficiently. Insulin plays a vital role in making blood sugar (your body's fuel) available to your cells. Obesity significantly increases the risk of diabetes.
- Heart disease and stroke. People who are obese are more likely to have high blood pressure, hardened arteries, high cholesterol, and other factors that can lead to heart disease and stroke.
- Sleep apnea. This sleep disorder is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. The disorder can cause daytime fatigue, high blood pressure and, rarely, sudden death. People with Prader-Willi syndrome may have sleep apnea or other sleep disorders even if they aren't obese, but obesity can worsen sleep problems.
- Other complications. Obese people, including those with Prader-Willi syndrome, are at increased risk of liver disease and can have pain in their joints due to excessive wear and tear.
Complications of hypogonadism
Complications may also arise from hypogonadism, a condition in which your sex organs don't secrete sufficient amounts of the sex hormones testosterone (males) and estrogen and progesterone (females). These may include:
- Sterility. Although there have been a few reports of women with Prader-Willi syndrome becoming pregnant, most people with this disorder are unable to have children.
- Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weak and brittle bones, which can break easily. People with Prader-Willi syndrome are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis because they have low levels of sex hormones and may also have low levels of growth hormone — both hormones help maintain strong bones.
Other complications can arise from the complex nature of Prader-Willi syndrome:
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- Effects of binge eating. Eating large amounts of food quickly, called binge eating, can cause your child's stomach to become abnormally distended (gastric dilatation). Individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome may not report pain and they rarely vomit. Binge eating can also cause choking and any of the other complications associated with obesity. Rarely, a person with Prader-Willi syndrome may eat so much that it causes stomach rupture.
- Significant behavior problems. Behavioral problems can interfere with family functioning and successful education and social participation. They can also reduce the quality of life for children, teenagers and adults with Prader-Willi syndrome.
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- Overview of early intervention. National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. http://nichcy.org/babies/overview. Accessed Dec. 21, 2013.
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- Intellectual disabilities. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.com. Accessed Jan. 10, 2014.
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