Excess weight that can lead to a diagnosis of obesity or morbid obesity, according to the patient’s Body Mass Index (BMI), is often a primary medical condition that elevates the probability of developing other diseases. The conditions that result from obesity are called “comorbidities” and range from diabetes, hypertension and metabolic disease to cancer or heart disease. Pulmonary disease and obesity are also related.
Development of Pulmonary Disease and Obesity
Obesity may compromise pulmonary function and provoke gas exchange impairment, resulting in the development of a series of pulmonary conditions, such as asthma, sleep apnea and pickwickian syndrome. Asthma is developed due to genetic and environmental factors, and excess weight increases the probability of inflammation in numerous body parts. When inflammation occurs in the lungs, it can result in the development of asthma.
Sleep apnea is a disease that causes repetitive interruption of the normal breathing for about 10 seconds during sleep, causing a reduction in the oxygen available in the blood. Frequently, the occurrence of sleep apnea episodes in obese patients is related to the increased soft tissue in the mouth and throat, which are more relaxed during sleep and may block the airways. Pickwickian syndrome is characterized by smaller or shallower breaths that reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood and can result in heart problems.
Obesity-Related Pulmonary Disease Prevention
Obesity causes an increase in the volume of the lungs, which causes respiratory problems. However, these diseases are preventable. Avoiding stress factors can help prevent the development of pulmonary disease, being the most important tobacco smoke, air pollution, pollutants, allergens, occupational agents, and high altitude. The best method to avoid respiratory problems is nonetheless behavior changes, including the adoption of an healthy diet and regular physical exercise.
Preventing pulmonary disease related to obesity is also important due to its potential to result in other problems such as heart conditions and ultimately premature death. In the particular case of sleep apnea, the relationship between the two diseases is a vicious circle, as obesity can also cause sleeping problems and sleep deprivation can result in obesity.
Pulmonary Disease Treatment for Obese Patients
Treating pulmonary disease in obese patients is inseparable from treating its underlying cause, and the most common methods are the ones focused on weight loss. Healthy diet and exercise are always an imperative in medically-supervised weight loss, but can be combined with other methods, such as pre-packed meals, pharmacotherapy or weight loss surgery, according to each case and the physician’s opinion.
The study “Obesity and Respiratory Diseases,” published in 2010 at the International Journal of General Medicine, raises questions about the treatment of obese patients who also suffer from pulmonary disease. The investigators conclude that physicians need to have particular attention to the challenges associated to obesity, in particular during the moments of intubation and extubation. Anesthesia for a surgery and recovery from the procedure are also influenced by obesity.