DefinitionPrader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is group of symptoms caused by a rare genetic disorder. It can cause a variety of problems with growth and development.
CausesPWS is caused by a random genetic defect. The defect is most often caused by a gene from the father.
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Risk FactorsThere are no known risk factors. About 1% may have a family history.
SymptomsSome physical features common in people with PWS include:
- Almond-shaped eyelid openings
- Misalignment of the eyes
- Thin upper lip
- Downturned mouth
- Narrow forehead
- Small hands and feet
- Difficulty feeding
- Slow growth
- Inability to suck well
- A weak, squeaky cry
- Delay of normal development, such as language skills and walking
- Behavior problems, such as temper tantrums and stubbornness
- Short stature compared to family
- Increased appetite
- Insatiable hunger
- Continuing behavior problems, such as:
- Anger and inflexibility
- Difficulty with transitions
- Mood swings
- Obsessive-compulsive habits
- Learning disabilities
- Sleep problems
- High threshold for pain
- Insensitivity to temperature extremes
DiagnosisThe doctor may suspect PWS based on your child's symptoms. Some symptoms are general. They may be associated with other types of illness. As a result, the diagnosis may not be made until early childhood.A genetic test can help to confirm the diagnosis. This test is done with a sample of blood.
TreatmentPWS will require lifetime treatment. It is managed by the caregivers of children with PWS. Key areas of treatment include:
Appetite and Weight ManagementIn the first year of life, children with PWS often have trouble eating enough food. Your doctor may recommend giving special formula through a tube. This will provide enough nutrition so your child can grow as expected. However, the appetite generally begins to grow out of control after the first year of life. Treatment then becomes focused on preventing obesity.PWS affects the part of the brain that tells us that we are full. As a result, people with this syndrome will never feel full. Without this signal, anyone can easily eat too much food. In addition, people with PWS have a slow metabolism. Both of these factors can lead to excessive weight gain and obesity. This weight gain increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems.In this case, excess eating is not a will power problem. People with PWS cannot be trained to manage their appetite. Instead, caretakers need to limit access to food. Any exposure to food needs to be supervised. Regular exercise should also be encouraged. This can help manage the weight and decrease the risk of other obesity-related health problems.
Behavior Issue ManagementInfants and young children are often happy and loving. Difficult behaviors tend to develop as children with PWS get older. Some steps that may help you manage these behaviors include:
- Daily structure and routine
- Firm rules
- Rewards for good behavior
- Psychotropic drugs may be necessary
MedicationsDevelopmental issues may be treated in a variety of ways. Growth hormones can help with poor physical growth. Your child will also have a team of specialists to monitor development.
Early InterventionEarly intervention can help to address delays in physical skills, speech, and language. The program can also assist as your child moves through school.
Additional SupportYour child may also need specialist care for other symptoms associated with PWS. This may include an eye doctor, bone specialist, or dentist.
PreventionThere are no current guidelines for preventing PWS. Some side effects may be preventable with treatment.
March of Dimes
Prader-Willi Syndrome Association
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Foundation for Prader-Willi Research
About Prader-Willi syndrome. Foundation for Prader-Willi Research website. Available at: http://fpwr.org/about-prader-willi-syndrome. Accessed August 12, 2013.
McCandless SE, Committee on Genetics. Clinical report-health supervision for children with Prader-Willi syndrome. Pediatrics. 2011;127(1):195-204.
Wattendorf D, Muenke M. Prader-Willi syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(5):827-830.
5/17/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Siemensma EP, Tummers-de Lind van Wijngaarden RF, et al. Beneficial effects of growth hormone treatment on cognition in children with Prader-Willi syndrome: A randomized controlled trial and longitudinal study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012;97(7):2307.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 02/2015
- Update Date: 05/11/2013
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