We’ve talked before about the serious complications of gestational sleep apnea. Now a new study has identified the risk factors that make women more likely to develop sleep apnea during pregnancy.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) performed the study. It found that snoring frequency, BMI, and maternal age all contributed to the risk of developing sleep apnea during early or mid-pregnancy.

Risk Factors Identified for Sleep Apnea in Pregnancy

Developing a Risk Calculator

For this study, researchers looked at 3264 women in early pregnancy (6 to 15 weeks) and 2512 women in mid-pregnancy (22 to 29 weeks). These women were given questionnaires about their sleep habits, snoring, and daytime sleepiness. Then they had their nighttime breathing checked using a home sleep test.

Researchers found that 3.6 % of women in early pregnancy and 8.3 % of women in mid-pregnancy had sleep apnea. The characteristics linked to sleep apnea risk were snoring, BMI, and maternal age. Daytime sleepiness was not found to be a significant risk factor. Likely that’s because of the excess fatigue that many women experience during pregnancy.

Because of the risks associated with sleep apnea during pregnancy, researchers recommend that doctors screen patients for sleep apnea risk during pregnancy. To make this easier, they developed a risk calculator that works with the BMI, maternal age, and frequency of snoring.

What Next?

Of course, now that we know the risks and have a sense of how to identify women at risk, we have to identify the right treatment option for women. Currently, the NIH is also conducting a study on sleep apnea treatment during pregnancy that is supposed to be completed this year. Called SOAP (Sleep disordered breathing, Obesity, And Pregnancy), the trial has the limitation that is only looks at the effectiveness of CPAP use.

Although this is better than nothing, we can expect that the results will be heavily impacted by the problem of compliance. Given that it can take months for users to adapt to CPAP–if they ever do–the treatment seems particularly poorly suited for use during pregnancy.

Although there haven’t been clinical trials specifically focused on oral appliances used during pregnancy, there is no reason to believe that they won’t be effective. In fact, we can typically tell when an appliance is going to be effective before you are even fitted with one. It depends on your anatomy, so we can screen patients before recommending the use of an appliance.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

If you have developed sleep apnea, whether in association with pregnancy or not, we can help you find the right sleep apnea treatment for you. Please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.