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Health Today: Obesity linked to chronic respiratory disorders

by Fidaa Shaib, MD, and Rodney J Folz, MD, PhD last modified Jan 10, 2011 01:43 PM

(Editor's Note: Health Today is a regular column from health care professionals at UofL that features information ranging from health issues to UofL faculty/staff benefits.)

The link between obesity and health problems is well documented. Obesity is a major cause of health issues that account for nearly 7 percent of health care expenditures in the United States. An obese patient has annual health care costs that are at least 36 percent greater than those of a patient who has a normal body mass index.

Joints and the heart aren't the only areas which obesity affects. The obesity epidemic poses many new challenges to health professionals caring for patients with chronic respiratory diseases.

In the respiratory system, obesity is linked to a wide range of conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, pulmonary embolism, aspiration pneumonia and obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity may increase the prevalence, incidence and severity of asthma, while weight loss in obese individuals improves asthma outcomes. Obesity is also the major risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in which 50 percent to 70 percent of those with OSA are obese. The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in obese patients is upwards of 40 percent.

To begin to address some of these health problems, patients should work with their physicians to address their weight issues and develop a medically sound weight-loss plan. For treating chronic respiratory issues, the most important thing is to get an accurate diagnosis. Many times asthma is diagnosed "clinically" but deeper examination finds patients have something else. The same recommendation holds for people who believe they have a sleep disorder. Once proper diagnoses have been made, teaching patients about the diseases/disorders is extremely important so patients understand how to take medications, use sleep treatment equipment, etc.

UofL Health Care Centers for Primary Care are available for providing additional information about obesity and its impact on health. Physicians can be reached at the UofL Health Care Outpatient Center at 401 East Chestnut St., 813-2222, and Cardinal Station at the corner of Third Street and Central Avenue at 852-5666.

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