Overweight and obese individuals have a much higher rate of medical problems, including those listed below. Morbid obesity is a chronic medical condition that deserves compassionate treatment from qualified medical personnel.
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Diabetes – Chronically elevated blood sugar causes tissue damage throughout the body that can lead to kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, blindness and arterial blockage in the legs that can require amputation. Diabetes mellitus, specifically adult-onset or type 2 diabetes, is 10 times more common in people who are obese.
More than 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, are obese or overweight. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III shows that two-thirds of adult men and women in the U.S. diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes have a body mass index (BMI), of 27 or greater, which is classified as overweight and unhealthy.
High blood pressure – Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common problem for people who are obese. It can lead to heart and/or kidney disease, stroke and arterial blockage.
High cholesterol – Obesity can lead to high cholesterol levels and a higher incidence of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Degenerative arthritis – Obesity puts stress on the lower back and weight-bearing joints (knees, ankles, feet, hips) that can lead to degenerative arthritis. In the lower back, arthritis can cause nerve compression and chronic pain. In the joints, arthritis can cause difficulty in walking and problems that may require joint-replacement surgery. (Surgeons may, however, decline to perform surgery on an obese patient until weight is lost.)
Sleep apnea and respiratory problems – A heavier-than-normal chest wall may cause overweight people to feel “winded” after slight physical exertion. Two serious breathing problems caused by severe obesity are sleep apnea syndrome and obesity hypoventilation syndrome. With sleep apnea, fat compresses the neck and blocks the windpipe, causing loud snoring and periods where the person appears not to breathe. Sleep apnea can lead to heart rhythm disturbances and even sudden death. People over 350 pounds are at greater risk for obesity hypoventilation syndrome, a condition that causes shortness of breath even while resting. The failure to bring adequate oxygen to organs and tissues can result in heart and/or lung failure and blood clots that may lead to stroke.
Urinary stress incontinence – A loss of urine may occur when the bladder valve is overcome by the pressure of a heavy belly pressing against the bladder, combined with pressure (stress) from a cough, laugh or sneeze.
Gastroesophageal reflux – Acid in the stomach is normally prevented from going back up the esophagus by a valve. This valve, however, can be overcome by increased pressure after a large meal or a heavy belly. As a result, food and acid can wash back up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. In severe cases, the food and acid enters the wind-pipe (trachea) and is inhaled, resulting in severe pneumonia or lung injury. Chronic acid reflux also increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
Venous stasis disease – Veins in the leg must work against gravity to carry blood back to the heart. As the abdomen of an obese person grows, the one-way valves in the legs may break down with the increased resistance against the flow of blood. As the valves fail, the legs swell and become discolored and ulcers may form. A debilitating condition, venous disease rarely improves without weight loss.
Cancer – Overweight women have been shown to have a higher risk of cancer of the breast, uterus and ovaries. Obese men run a higher risk of esophageal, colon and prostate cancer.
Skin Infections – When an overweight person has skin that folds in on itself, the creased areas can become irritated from sweating and chafing. Even with frequent bathing, infections can occur, causing pain and discomfort. Skin cuts from bras are also painful and may become infected.
Infertility – Excess levels of fat contribute to changing the levels of estrogen and progesterone in women, causing irregular menstrual cycles and infertility. This is reversible with weight loss and women who lose weight should take precautions if pregnancy is not desired.
Mental-Health Issues – In addition to physical concerns, overweight people can suffer mental health issues including depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Being subjected to disapproval, even lectures, from family and friends can lead to avoidance of social gatherings and formerly pleasurable activities. Even physicians sometimes exhibit prejudicial attitudes toward obese patients, further complicating their ability to receive the help they need.