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Tonsillectomy for Sleep Apnea can Increase risk of Weight Gain

Update Date: Jul 29, 2014 11:34 AM EDT

Children suffering from sleep apnea, which is a disorder characterized by breathing pauses or shallow breaths that occur during sleep, are often recommended to undergo a tonsillectomy, a procedure that removes the tonsils. Even though this surgical procedure is relatively safe, a new study examined the potential side effects and discovered that children who underwent a tonsillectomy to alleviate their symptoms of sleep apnea are more likely to gain weight in comparison to children with sleep apnea who did not have the surgery.

In this study, the researchers analyzed 204 children between the ages of five and nine who were recommended to undergo surgery and another 192 children who took the watchful waiting approach. The team followed the progress of the children over the span of seven months. They found that children who had a tonsillectomy ended up gaining more weight on average than children who did not get the procedure. The overall weight gain difference was small and was not noticeable in children of normal weight. In overweight children, however, the extra pounds increased their risk of becoming obese.

The researchers reported that 52 percent of children who were overweight before the surgery had become obese seven months after the procedure. In the group of kids who waited, only 21 percent of the overweight kids became obese within the same time span. The researchers stated that children with sleep apnea should ideally adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes nutrition and exercise.

"You can't just treat the sleep apnea. You have to have nutrition and lifestyle counseling, too," said lead researcher Dr. Eliot Katz, a respiratory disease specialist at Boston Children's Hospital according to WebMD. "After surgery, parents are often very satisfied. 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."

Although the researchers were not sure what causes the weight gain, they theorized that since children no longer have difficulties breathing during sleep, they could be burning fewer calories. Another explanation could be that more sleep reduces hyperactivity during the daytime, which would then reduce the total number of calories burned throughout the day.

The study, "Growth After Adenotonsillectomy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea: An RCT," was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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