Morbid obesity is typically defined as being 100 lbs. or more over ideal body weight or having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher. It is a chronic disease, meaning that its symptoms build slowly over an extended period of time. Morbid obesity can lead to the development of what is known as “co-morbid” conditions. These are serious health issues that arise directly from the severe degree of obesity.
The following is a partial list of co-morbid conditions that can develop due to morbid obesity:
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a long-term metabolic disorder where the body produces insulin but resists it. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use sugar. Because of excess weight, obese individuals develop a resistance to insulin, which controls blood sugar.
High blood pressure & heart disease
Excess body weight keeps the heart from working properly. The result can be high blood pressure (hypertension), which can cause strokes and heart and kidney damage.
Dyslipidemia & High cholesterol
Dyslipidemia is a disorder of lipids, which are the fat-like substances in the blood. A common form of dyslipidemia is hyperlipidemia (or high cholesterol), the condition that exists when someone has too much of certain lipids in the blood. As these lipids build up inside the artery walls, harmful scar tissue and other debris begin thickening and hardening the walls. Doctors call this condition atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Osteoarthritis of weight-bearing joints
Known as the wear-and-tear kind of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition in which there is a breakdown of a joint’s cartilage. For anyone with morbid obesity, the excess body weight placed on joints, particularly knees and hips, results in rapid wear and tear and pain caused by inflammation. Similarly, bones and muscles of the back constantly are strained, causing disc problems, pain and decrease movement ability.
Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. There are many reasons people with morbid obesity experience depression. Many of the everyday activities people with healthy body weight take for granted are big challenges for a person suffering from morbid obesity.
Sleep apnea & respiratory problems
Obstructive sleep apnea is when breathing suddenly stops because the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. The greater your excess body weight, the greater the amount of fat pressing down on your chest and lungs.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is an injury to the esophagus caused by chronic exposure to stomach acid. While the symptom of heartburn is often associated with this disease, GERD is a serious disease that can cause esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer.
Excess body weight may weaken the valve at the top of the stomach, allowing acid to escape into the esophagus. This escape is known as gastroesophageal reflux.
Urinary stress incontinence
Among women, morbid obesity is a big risk factor for urinary stress incontinence or uncontrollable urine loss. A large, heavy abdomen and relaxation of the pelvic muscles due to morbid obesity may cause the valve on the urinary bladder to weaken, leading to leakage of urine with coughing, sneezing or laughing.
Asthma & pulmonary conditions
Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system in which the airways unexpectedly narrow. Adult-onset asthma is closely associated with GERD. Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing and chest tightness.
Reproductive health can be a concern for women struggling with morbid obesity. Issues such as infertility (the inability or reduced ability to produce children) and menstrual irregularities may occur due to morbid obesity.