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What Is the Treatment for Prader-Willi Syndrome?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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The primary treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome is therapy with growth hormones, diet and exercise, and sometimes sex hormone replacement. Hormonal therapies are not used for all individuals with this condition, since they can lead to certain side effects in some people. Educational therapies may also be used to help children and adults succeed in school and vocational settings. Most complications caused by Prader-Willi syndrome are a result of obesity, which is very common amongst sufferers.

Prader-Willi syndrome is a genetic condition that is caused by an abnormality on chromosome 15. The most common symptom is an uncontrollable urge to eat, and resulting obesity. Children with the condition typically will stop at nothing to get more food. This includes stealing food items and sneaking them without a parent or guardian’s permission. Aside from this urge to eat constantly, those with the syndrome typically have a lack of muscle tone, decreased mental capacity, and they often have small sex organs with little to no sex hormone production.

Since obesity is a serious risk, treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome often involves controlling weight gain through diet and exercise. Obesity is often obtained during childhood in those with this condition, so parents must watch children closely to ensure that they do not get more food without their knowledge. Maintaining a low-fat diet is also beneficial. This should include plenty of vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fruits.

Exercise is a beneficial treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome in two ways. First, it wards off obesity and the resulting health problems it can cause. Two, since children with Prader-Willi are born with very little muscle mass, regular strength training exercises can help build muscles. This allows for better function of the arms, legs, and other areas of the body.

Growth hormones may also be used as treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome because they can assist with muscle development when combined with exercise. Patients may also receive sex hormone replacement therapy during puberty for proper reproductive health. The amount and types of hormones given will differ for each individual patient.

Additionally, treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome may include educational programs aimed at developing the brain. Since many people with this condition are born with lower than average intelligence, special education is often required so they can learn to work and live as normally as possible. The exact mental challenges experienced by each person will vary from person to person.

When obesity is not properly controlled, the resulting health problems, if any, will also have to be treated. These may vary from diabetes to heart problems, and treatment options will be individualized based on the condition. This may include medications, surgery, and dietary changes.

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