What is Prader-Willi Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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Prader-Willi syndrome is a condition in which an individual feels a strong sense of hunger, even when food has been recently consumed. The condition is present at birth and may begin to manifest itself as early as the age of one. Because of the intense hunger pangs, Prader-Willi syndrome children are much more prone to obesity than their counterparts. As a result, they are much more likely to develop physical ailments that are a direct result of the obesity.

There are a number of signs and symptoms of Prader-Willi syndrome that are evident early on. Many children suffering with the condition will have such facial characteristics as almond-shaped eyes, a mouth that turns downward, and an upper lip that is noticeably thin. Poor muscle tone is another one of the more common Prader-Willi syndrome symptoms, and is exhibited by the knees and elbows being loosely extended most of the time, instead of assuming a fixed position when the baby is agitated or playing.

As the child ages, other symptoms will appear. Hormone imbalances are usually present, resulting in slow development of sex organs. The lack of muscle tone becomes more pronounced, while the hunger pangs increase in frequency and severity. The child may have trouble sleeping, develop severe behavioral problems, and possibly have trouble learning and speaking. Nearsightedness may also develop, and the skin color may be noticeably lighter than that of the rest of the family.


There are several types of Prader-Willi syndrome treatment that can help to alleviate many of the symptoms. Hormone treatments can help to restore a normal growth pattern, allowing the child’s body to mature at a rate similar to that of other children his or her age. Eating a diet that is low in calories but high in proteins, fiber, and various essential nutrients can also help maintain physical and emotional balance, which is likely to aid in controlling behavioral issues. In some cases, ongoing counseling will also help the child to manage the disease and enjoy a relatively normal level of social interaction with other children.

Care must be taken to utilize exercise and proper diet in order to keep the condition at bay as the child enters adolescence and later adulthood. Depending on the severity of the condition, the injection of sex hormones may be necessary to trigger normal growth and the onset of puberty. While the symptoms may weaken over time, they seldom disappear altogether. Adults who have Prader-Willi syndrome sometimes make use of drug therapy their entire lives in order to cope with the disease.


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