We have been slowly learning about the wide-ranging risks of sleep apnea to both pregnant women and their children. But now a new study is providing us with comprehensive information about the full extent of the risk.
Pregnant women should take steps to reduce their risk of complications related to sleep apnea.
Many Sleep Apnea Complications
This study looked at the pregnancy records of more than 1.5 million women in the US from 2010 to 2014, using a national database of anonymized medical information. The study controlled for obesity and other risk factors, but still identified major health risks for pregnant women with sleep apnea. These included an elevated risk of:
- Admission to ICU
- Longer hospital stays
- Swelling in the lungs
- Heart failure
The increase in risk varied among the conditions. Women were three times more likely to be admitted to the ICU if they had sleep apnea, but five times more likely to have swelling in the lungs. They were twice as likely to need a hysterectomy, and 3.6 times more likely to have heart failure. In addition, the women had an average hospital stay of five days, compared to an average of just three days for women without sleep apnea.
Researchers note that they couldn’t definitively say that sleep apnea caused these conditions, only that the two were associated. But considering some of the other causal links related to sleep apnea, it doesn’t seem unlikely that sleep apnea could be causing these conditions.
How to Address Your Risk
Although we’re not yet sure whether sleep apnea is the cause for these pregnancy complications, it seems prudent to try to reduce your potential risk.
One way to try to reduce your risk is to try to achieve a healthy weight before getting pregnant. Obesity increases your risk of developing sleep apnea.
In addition, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the risk of gestational sleep apnea. Many doctors don’t think about this condition, and it’s probably part of the reason why less than 1% of women in this sample were diagnosed with sleep apnea. It’s likely the actual number of sufferers is much higher. Watch for warning signs of sleep apnea, including snoring, waking up unrested, and daytime sleepiness.
And if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, get treatment. Although CPAP is the treatment most recommended by doctors, an oral appliance might be easier to adapt to in a short period of time and therefore might help you get better treatment for your sleep apnea.