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Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

What Is Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome?

Obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS) — also known as Pickwickian syndrome — is a disorder in which poor breathing lowers oxygen and raises carbon dioxide levels in your blood. It’s an obesity-related condition, but the exact cause is unknown.

The syndrome may result from a defect in your brain's ability to control breathing. Extra weight against your chest wall can also make it hard for your muscles to draw in a deep breath. This results in too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen.

If untreated, obesity hypoventilation syndrome can lead to heart and blood vessel disease, severe disability or death.


    Obesity hypoventilation syndrome affects your breathing, sleep, and heart and lung health. Related symptoms may include:

    • Poor sleep quality
    • Sleepiness or tiredness during the day
    • Depression
    • Headaches
    • Sleep apnea
    • Shortness of breath or tiring easily
    • Bluish lips, fingers, toes or skin
    • Reddish skin
    • Swollen legs or feet


    Treatment Options

    Treatment may involve breathing-assistance therapies and steps to prevent serious complications. Depending on your condition and procedures, treatment may be done in an outpatient clinic or hospital. Treatments may include:

    • Noninvasive mechanical ventilation – These breathing aids include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) through a mask that fits over your nose or nose and mouth. These are typically only used at night to help you sleep better.
    • Tracheostomy – During this procedure, surgeons create a small opening in your neck to help you breathe through a breathing device.
    • Weight loss treatments – Losing weight can reverse obesity hypoventilation syndrome. In some instances, bariatric (weight loss) surgery may be an option.

    Ready for an Appointment?

    If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of obesity hypoventilation syndrome, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

    Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat obesity hypoventilation syndrome.