Growth hormone (GH) is licensed for treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) for improvement of body composition,1–3 height velocity, mobility, behaviour and quality of life.4 Recent case reports, however, have pointed out the occurrence of sudden death during initiation of GH, mainly during sleep and possibly related to severe obesity and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB).5–15 Concerns for an increased mortality in PWS children starting GH therapy led to a call for cessation of its use.
Children with PWS are at risk of developing SDB secondary to both deficient autonomic sleep control and upper airway obstruction (UAO). It has been suggested that GH exacerbates pre-existing gas-exchange deficiencies in three ways: (a) by stimulation of adenotonsillar hypertrophy;16 17 (b) by a rise in basal metabolic rate with a resultant rise in oxygen demand;18 and (c) by normalisation of previously decreased hydration with augmentation of volume load.19
Are we withholding GH therapy, a treatment known to be of benefit in PWS, without adequate evidence to justify our actions? We consider it safe to treat severely obese children with GH once SDB is addressed using respiratory support such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP). In this paper, we evaluate the current evidence for the use of GH in PWS from a respiratory bias and propose a pathway for the identification and monitoring of these “at risk” patients.
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Competing interests: PS has received honorariums from Novo Nordisk and Pfizer UK for oral presentations at endocrine meetings.