Pickwickian syndrome

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: May 24th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Fat Joe had a red, red face. He was traveling in a coach with Mr. Pickwick when soldiers started firing mortars at them; Joe slept through the entire attack. Joe did wake up when it was time to eat and gulped down a fat capon [KAY-pon] and veal patties. Then he went back to sleep and snored loudly.

If you’re familiar with Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, you’ll recognize Joe, the portly character with the incredible ability to fall asleep anytime, anywhere… unless he’s eating. In 1956, Dr. C.S. Burwell applied the term pickwickian syndrome to one of his patients, a business executive who stood five-feet-five inches, weighed over two-hundred-sixty pounds and had symptoms similar to Joe’s.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that sixty-million Americans are extremely obese. So it’s no surprise pickwickian syndrome is on the rise.

The condition is characterized by extreme obesity, daytime drowsiness, a flushed face and obstructive sleep apnea. Because of the ensuing oxygen shortage, the brain tells the person to wake up and breathe. The cycle is repeated hundreds of times a night.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed obstructive sleep apnea elevates the risk of stroke and death, and patients may be prone to falling asleep while driving… increasing the chance of an accident.

Fortunately there’s nothing fictional about the treatment: weight loss, increased physical activity and medication can help patients turn over a new page when it comes to their health.