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Study: Tonsillectomies May Trigger Weight Gain in Children with Sleep Apnea

tonsillectomiesAs we’ve reported previously, up to 4% of children suffer from sleep apnea – and it could begin as early as 2 years old. While CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is one of the most effective treatments for adults with sleep apnea, surgical removal of the adenoids and tonsils is the most common and effective treatment for children. However, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, a tonsillectomy may trigger weight gain in already overweight children.

HealthDay reports that researchers led by Dr. Eliot Katz of Boston Children’s Hospital examined 204 children between the ages of 5 and 9 who had been assigned to undergo tonsillectomies to alleviate sleep apnea and 192 children who were using other methods of treatment. They found that among the children in both groups who were already overweight at the beginning of the study, 52% became obese in the months following their tonsillectomy compared to just 21% who had used other methods of treatment.

As for a possible explanation behind the post-surgery weight gain, Katz and his team have a few theories:

  • The children burned fewer calories, as they no longer had to struggle to breathe
  • The children became less active with the improvement of their symptoms
  • The sleep apnea itself had caused metabolic changes while the symptoms were prevalent

While the researchers haven’t advised against tonsillectomies for children with sleep apnea, they have noted the importance of maintaining good health following the surgery.

"Nutrition and exercise are just as important as treating the sleep apnea with a single procedure," said Dr. Sangeeta Chakravorty, co-director of the sleep evaluation center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

If you suspect that your child may have sleep apnea, you can find a pediatrician who specializes in this sleep disorder on the American Sleep Apnea Association website.