A doctor discusses tonsillectomies

Tonsillectomies and Weight Gain

Each year, over 500,000 children have their tonsils removed in the United States. During a study conducted by Stanford University, a child’s weight rises by about 6% within 18 months following their tonsillectomy surgery. Additionally, the BMI (body mass index) rises an average of 8% after the procedure. Doctors have known for a long time that children tend to gain weight quickly after undergoing a tonsillectomy, but what has been long debated are the reasons why this occurs.

Why is weight gain associated with tonsillectomies?

Though tonsillectomies were once commonly used to treat tonsillitis, the procedure is now recommended to treat other conditions, such as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can occur with enlarged tonsils, since it creates constriction in the airways, which can lead to pauses in breathing during the night. This condition is most common among children because tonsils will become swollen more often in young kids whose immune systems are much more active than adults’. Additionally, children’s immune systems are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections, since they have not been exposed to these agents and therefore have not yet been able to build up a tolerance.

Whether the enlarged tonsils are due to recurring or prolonged inflammation or infections or they are just naturally larger than normal, a tonsillectomy will usually be recommended for a child who is experiencing breathing problems.

As for why tonsillectomies to treat sleep apnea in children leads to an increased weight gain, researchers believe that it may have something to do with the increased work of labored breathing burning more calories as well as the inability to eat certain foods or as much food due to the enlarged size of the tonsils.

Another theory is that sleep apnea can cause metabolic changes since growth hormones are released during sleep, and the disorder can interfere with the amount getting released. Therefore, the body adjusts the metabolism in order to maintain the child’s ability to grow at a normal pace.

Who is at risk for weight gain after a tonsillectomy?

Though tonsillectomies are related to weight gain, they are not necessarily associated with higher obesity rates. Most children who gain weight after a tonsillectomy were considered underweight before the procedure. However, children who were already overweight do tend to become obese within seven or eight months after the procedure.

How can you prevent weight gain after a tonsillectomy?

Even though getting a tonsillectomy is likely to lead to weight gain, this does not mean that it should not be considered as a treatment option. Doctors agree that tonsillectomies should still be recommended to treat children who struggle with sleep apnea or other problems because of enlarged tonsils. However, these findings do mean that parents of children who undergo tonsillectomies should be aware of this risk and take steps to prevent this from happening to their child. After a tonsillectomy, diet and exercise should be adjusted accordingly to avoid a rapid gain of weight following the procedure.

Last Updated: May 05, 2016