Right now, a rare illness, “Prader–Willi syndrome,” is one of the top Web searches. What does it mean?

Every once in a while the Internet creates a mystery. Sunday evening, Prader–Willi syndrome beat out the Gulf oil spill and “Mad Men” on Google. What’s going on?

The short answer is that the popular TV show ”Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” showed a rerun episode that features a family whose child has this illness. Our focus is the definition of this rare and tragic genetic disorder and the language associated with it.

Prader–Willi syndrome is named for the scientists who first described it in 1956, Andrea Prader and Heinrich Willi. Approximately one out of 12,000 children is born with the syndrome.

A rough description of the cause of Prader–Willi syndrome (PWS) is that certain chromosomes, “threadlike bodies that carry the genes in a linear order,” are missing or only partially complete. This results in symptoms including hyperphagia (an abnormally large appetite), learning disabilities and decreased growth.

There is no cure for PWS, just treatment of the symptoms and early genetic testing to identify the condition.

Finally, “syndrome” has a specific meaning which is useful to keep in mind: “A set of signs and symptoms that appear together and characterize a disease or medical condition.” The Greek root syn means “with” and dromos is “running course.” The “S” in AIDS stands for syndrome: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Now learn what “palsy,” as in cerebral palsy, means, here.


  1. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 24, 2013 - 4:23 am

    I’ll be praying for Rene. I’m glad u love your sis so much!

    Prader-Willi Syndrome isn’t as bad as some other diseases. Still, it wouldn’t be pleasant to have it (to say the least). :(

  2. cheri -  September 7, 2010 - 8:18 pm

    Hi , my sister has PWS. She will be 44 in Nov. God Bless her, it has been a long hard road. She is never, never full. Our family has everything locked up otherwise she will eat everything in sight. That is the only thing on her mind 24/7. Hard to imagine isin’t it. I give my mother credit for all of these years. The past few weeks my sister ( rene) is being found in the early mornings having seziure like symptoms now. We have taken her in for through testing and they can’t tell us why she is having these, very scary. Prayers would be greatly appreciated by all, they are going to run a slep apnea test real soon here, she is exhausted all the time, falls asleep just out of the blue, in moments we will look at her and shes asleep. She is special ed also. Thank You for your prayers for rene, I love her so much. Signed Big Sis Cheri

  3. pharmacy technician -  July 31, 2010 - 2:29 pm

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  4. Mark R Collins -  July 29, 2010 - 4:45 pm

    Even the dictionary folk appear to use the word “infamous” incorrectly, when referring to Rev. Spooner’s spoonerisms. Hmm.

  5. THE OBVIOUS -  July 29, 2010 - 4:11 pm

    I am amazed that the same people who watch Extreme Makover anything edition actually know how to use a computer!

  6. Nirmal Kumar Mishra -  July 28, 2010 - 7:14 pm

    I am happy to note that this syndrome was brought to focus and discussed.

  7. Penny -  July 27, 2010 - 1:20 am

    Well done Mike Polinske!

    On anither topic diictionary.com, can we please have an icon to clic to take us back to the top of the page? Other web sites have.

  8. Bere -  July 26, 2010 - 9:50 pm

    To M.L.J: I believe they left those comments because is more than obvious you are not going to give an opinion about something you have not even read; which is exactly what happened with Kathy and actually I agree with them!
    It is not just to read an article it’s to understand it and notice what you are reading!!!

  9. hksche2000 -  July 26, 2010 - 7:13 pm

    Mental retardation and hypogonadism are also consistent symptoms of PWS in addition to morbid obesity and short stature

  10. M.L.J. -  July 26, 2010 - 7:01 pm

    to the previous two comments:why do you have to be so mean spirited?

  11. FulfuraterX -  July 26, 2010 - 1:53 pm

    To kathy: It also said rerun so it wasn’t this sunday’s episode! (oh right you probably didn’t read it.)

  12. duh -  July 26, 2010 - 9:26 am

    well kathy…thanks for the 411. betcha didn’t read the article. they mentioned your little gem in paragraph 2.

  13. KathyB -  July 26, 2010 - 8:15 am

    The reason the search showed up as number one should not be a mystery to anyone familiar with the TV series Extreme Makeover – Home Edition, starring Ty Pennington. This Sunday’s episode focused on a family whose youngest son suffered from Prader-Willi.

  14. Mike Polinske -  July 26, 2010 - 8:10 am

    When I was about 4 or 5 doctor’s thought I had Prader-Willi Syndrome, but they ruled it out by the time I was 7. I went from being “profoundly retarded” to “superior ability”. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out what was really wrong with me. I was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, which means my optic nerve never fully developed. I am legally blind, but I see well enough to be a computer programmer without any adaptive equipment.

  15. PRADER-WILLI SYNDROME | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 26, 2010 - 6:12 am

    [...] “PRADER-WLLI SYNDROME” — What is the meaning of HOT. — If we said “POTATO” we’d be shilling. — “SYNDROME” we can deal with in general way we’d be willing. — There is no humor in dealing with sickness and disease. A younger brother died from complications of Reiter’s or maybe John Hopkin Syndrome — He died at 52 as a research beast. — They paid for all his experimental treatment — two heart valves and feet in cement. — Then hung him out to dry to say the least.–>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  16. Chibbi -  July 25, 2010 - 11:16 pm

    Wow , I never knew about it , I’m only 14 even. It’s really sad to see such diseases like this be created into our world. I finally understand what this is now, thank you !

  17. hmm -  July 25, 2010 - 11:15 pm

    With the myriad of illnesses we can fall victim to, perhaps more than any form of life, you would think we were cursed….

  18. MamaDuck -  July 25, 2010 - 9:13 pm

    My great-niece has Prader-Willi Syndrome. When she was very small it was very difficult because her body wasn’t able to tell her when she was full after eating nor could her body regulate her temperature. She had to take trips to the park packed in ice if it was a warm day. She is about 12 years old now. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of those who follow you!


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