Prader-Willi Syndrome and Sleep Apnea

April 26, 2021
Avatar for Kelley MingusKelley Mingus

Approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people around the world have the condition known as Prader-Willi Syndrome. Prader-Willi Syndrome is a condition that occurs when there is a lack of paternal genes in chromosome number 15, which is responsible for sleep, appetite, metabolism, and social behavior. Persons with Prader-Willi Syndrome often have difficulty feeling full or satisfied, and as a result, suffer from obesity or are overweight. Now, a new study has found that children with Prader-Willi Syndrome are at an increased risk of a sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea.

Though it is more common in adults over the age of 50 who are overweight and who may smoke, obstructive sleep apnea is becoming more and more common in children, especially those who are overweight or obese. In the study, “Comparison of Frequency and Severity of Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders in Children with Simple Obesity and Paediatric Patients with Prader–Willi Syndrome,” which was published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine, researchers examined children with Prader-Willi Syndrome both who were and were not undergoing growth hormone therapy. Growth hormone therapy is sometimes used in the treatment of Prader-Willi Syndrome, and those who are treated with this therapy are less likely to be obese.

What researchers found was that among the children who were not treated with growth hormones, there was a high incidence of obstructive sleep apnea, but surprisingly there were still high instances of sleep apnea in the children who were being treated with growth hormones.
Researchers hypothesize that despite growth hormone treatment, sleep apnea may be harder to shake than previously thought and that when these children had a higher BMI, this aggravated what is known as central sleep apnea, leading researchers to believe these children suffer from central sleep apnea and not obstructive sleep apnea, and this type of apnea does not improve with growth hormone treatment.

Researchers also recommend that children with Prader-Willi Syndrome remain under the watchful eye of doctors and parents to screen for sleep apnea, as this sleep disorder can cause a long list of future medical problems such as depression and cognitive impairment. It may also contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

If you or your child have Prader-Willi Syndrome, speak with your physician about screening for sleep apnea, or discuss your options with Dr. Mingus.