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Eight years old and too fat to breathe.

Byline: By Wales on Sunday

An eight-year-old Welsh child has been given a ventilator because he is so overweight he could stop breathing in his sleep.

The child is one of hundreds of obese Welsh people who need special ventilators to breathe at night.

A special Wales on Sunday investigation found at least 280 patients in Wales have serious breathing difficulties connected to their weight.

The excess weight constricts breathing airways when the person lies down, making it harder for air to pass through.

Consultant respiratory paediatrician Dr Iolo Doull said three Welsh children have to use the machines, but warned there could be many more who need them.

'As the population gets more obese across Wales, this is the tip of an iceberg as the number needing the machines will increase,' said Dr Doull

'I'm sure there are children out there we do not know about who have these problems.'

The patients have to sleep wearing a mask connected to a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Pump (CPAP) to make sure they get enough oxygen. Without the special ventilator they might stop breathing several times a night, and in extreme cases, could die.

CPAP machines are normally used in high dependency units to help seriously ill patients come off life-support systems.

'Some children are very obese because they have a medical problem, and so they have to use CPAP,' said Dr Doull.

'But there are some who have the condition because they are overweight. It is very difficult to get them to lose weight, and that is the only thing that would help.'

The patients have sleep apnoea syndrome, a breathing difficulty which disrupts sufferers' sleep causing them to feel drowsy during the daytime.

Helen Griffith, sleep assessment nurse at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, works with patients who need the machines.

She said: 'These patients are obese, but it is difficult to say if it causes the problems or it leads to them putting on weight because they feel lethargic.

'The condition increases the pressure on the chest and constricts the airways. It affects patients of all different ages, my youngest is 19.'

And a spokesman for North West Wales NHS Trust said: 'Around 60 per cent of the patients we have on CPAP would be classified as obese. If about half of them lost weight, their problems would be resolved.'
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 20, 2004
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