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This Sleep Apnea Treatment May Trigger Weight Gain

Study found overweight kids who had surgery were more likely to become obese within seven months

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Sleep apnea itself also causes metabolic changes, Katz said. Growth hormone is released at night, and the sleep disorder can interfere with that. So the body may adapt metabolism in an effort to maintain a child's growth.

"When the sleep apnea is relieved, they're set up for rapid weight gain," Katz said.

It was once common for children with sleep apnea to be underweight and have "failure to thrive," Chakravorty noted. For those kids, rapid weight gain after tonsillectomy can be a good thing.

But these days, with childhood obesity on the rise, many kids with sleep apnea are already overweight or obese. If they rapidly put on pounds, Katz said, their sleep apnea might return in six months to a year.

"After surgery, parents are often very satisfied," Katz noted. "Their kids are sleeping better, and they may be better behaved and doing better in school. But there's this insidious issue of weight gain."

Chakravorty agreed that diet and exercise are key for children with sleep apnea -- but she said that's true regardless of the treatment approach. And, for heavy kids, weight loss alone might clear up the sleep apnea.

But if children ultimately do need surgery, parents shouldn't skip it due to worries about weight gain, according to Katz. He noted that if improved sleep apnea symptoms explain the post-surgery pounds, then other treatments -- including medication or continuous positive airway pressure devices -- could also spur excess weight gain.

"I think there are implications beyond surgical treatment," Katz said.

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