What Is Morbid Obesity? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

Morbid obesity is a condition that can lead to major health problems for the patient. Continue reading to learn what morbid obesity is, the symptoms and treatment for this weight-related medical condition.

What is Morbid Obesity?

Ryan is a 25-year-old male who has always been a little heavier than is friends. He is aware that his weight has steadily increased over the past 10 years. As his weight increases he finds it challenging to get around. Getting out of bed, getting out of chairs, walking, sleeping, even breathing is difficult for him to do. His family is concerned and asks him to seek medical help. Ryan goes to the doctor and learns he is not only obese, but is diagnosed as being morbidly obese. His morbid obesity is causing severe health problems for Ryan and it is critical that he deals with his weight now.

Morbid obesity is a medical diagnosis where a patient is 100 pounds over their ideal body weight, or has a BMI above 30. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a way to measure a person's body fat based on their height and weight. The chart categorizes people into underweight, normal, overweight and obese. Morbid obesity is anything outside of the chart measurements. There is a chart available for adults and children. This chart is only a tool to help patients and physicians see how much fat the body contains. This is not a tool to diagnose morbid obesity.

BMI chart
BMI chart

To properly diagnose morbid obesity a physician would need to do the following tests/exams on a patient:

  • BMI chart
  • Skinfold measurements
  • Health screenings for conditions the patient is complaining of
  • Assessing family history of the disease
  • Evaluation of the patient's diet and daily physical activity

Morbid obesity is caused by poor lifestyle choices (a high calorie diet and lack of physical activity). Medications, genetics, stress, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness which lead to overeating can also play a role in weight gain, but not to the point where it would lead to morbid obesity.

Symptoms of Morbid Obesity

The only true symptom of morbid obesity is a BMI above 30. But, patients who have high BMI's tend to have very serious weight-related medical conditions.

Patients who are morbidly obese have very severe medical problems that are secondary conditions to the morbid obesity. When a patient has secondary conditions, it means that the conditions are occurring because of another ailment. In Ryan's scenario at the beginning of the lesson, difficulty breathing would be secondary to his morbid obesity. The great thing about secondary conditions is that once the primary condition is dealt with, the secondary condition will usually get better or go away completely.

Examples of secondary conditions to morbid obesity include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Breathing conditions
  • Various types of cancers
  • Arthritis
  • Physical disabilities
  • Depression

Treatment Options

The only way to treat this condition is for the patient to lose weight. But, this has to be a lifestyle change and not just a temporary fix or the weight will come back.

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