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Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

Obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS) is a condition where poor breathing leads to lower oxygen and higher carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Being obese is a major risk factor.

OHS is believed to result from misfiring of the brain’s signal to breathe combined with excessive weight against the chest wall. The combination of problems makes it difficult to take a deep breath, leaving the blood with too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen. People with OHS are often tired due to sleep loss, poor sleep quality, and chronic low blood oxygen levels.

Symptoms of OHS may include bluish color in the lips, fingers, toes, or skin; reddish colored skin; signs of heart failure like swollen legs or feet, shortness of breath, or fatigue after little exertion. Diagnosing OHS includes a physical exam for symptoms and some additional blood tests, lung function tests, imaging tests, and a sleep study.

Because obesity is a risk factor for so many dangerous conditions like heart disease and stroke, losing weight is an important part of treatment. Breathing assistance machines and medications may also help.

Previous Page Last Review Date: January 5, 2018