Pickwickian Syndrome

What is Pickwickian syndrome?

Every time you breathe, your lungs take oxygen from the air and put it into your blood. Your lungs also take carbon dioxide out of your blood and send it out of your body when you exhale. Maintaining the correct levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood helps all the cells in your body work properly and stay healthy.

Pickwickian syndrome, also called obesity hypoventilation syndrome, throws off the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your lungs. People with Pickwickian syndrome are typically obese, have too much carbon dioxide in their blood and have sleep apnea at night. Left untreated, the condition can cause serious heart problems.

Symptoms of Pickwickian syndrome

You may notice other signs and symptoms of Pickwickian syndrome in your day-to-day life, including:

  • Sleepiness or tiredness during the day
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Snoring
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Bluish color in your fingers, toes or lips
  • Swollen legs or feet
  • Shortness of breath

Pickwickian syndrome can look like other conditions, like sleep apnea. Only your doctor can diagnose Pickwickian syndrome.

Diagnosis and testing for Pickwickian syndrome

To diagnose you with the condition, your doctor will first do a physical exam to check for signs of Pickwickian syndrome. Your doctor may also take a blood sample to check how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is in your blood.

You may also need to see a doctor who specializes in the lungs and breathing (called a pulmonologist). Your pulmonologist may test how well you can breathe and how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is in your lungs. The pulmonologist may also order chest X-rays or sleep studies to check for other problems that can cause symptoms similar to Pickwickian syndrome.

After you've been diagnosed with Pickwickian syndrome, you will need treatment to help increase how much oxygen is in your blood. Treatment can give you more energy, help you breathe better, and relieve symptoms of sleepiness and depression.

Pickwickian syndrome treatment options

Many people with Pickwickian syndrome use oxygen therapy. You will need to wear a mask or nasal cannula (tubes in your nose) that is connected to an oxygen tank. When you breathe in, you will take in more oxygen than you would if you breathed without the oxygen tank.

When you sleep, you may need to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. You will wear a mask while you sleep and the CPAP machine will make sure you continue to breathe normally and get plenty of oxygen throughout the night.

Because Pickwickian syndrome is often associated with a high BMI, your doctor may also help you lose weight. Losing weight alone may be enough to relive your symptoms so you don't need oxygen therapy or a CPAP machine.

The pulmonology experts at Main Line Health can help you breathe easier and feel more energetic.


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