Pregnancy often comes with anticipation, celebration, excitement, and nerves. But if you have obstructive sleep apnea, pregnancy could come with more than just a healthy glow and some morning sickness: It could come with complications. To make matters worse, even if a woman doesn’t suffer from sleep apnea normally, her pregnancy can put her at increased risk of the disorder.
Expectant Mothers Report Sleep Troubles
It’s already common for women’s sleep experiences to shift over the course of the month as their hormone levels do. Since pregnancy comes with even more dramatic changes to a woman’s hormone levels, it shouldn’t be surprising that pregnancy is also accompanied by changes to a woman’s sleeping habits.
It’s easy to write off fatigue during pregnancy as simply due to the physical and emotional demands that pregnancy puts on the body. However, it isn’t always that straightforward. In fact, 78% of pregnant women report increased sleep disturbance while expecting.
While some of that sleep disturbance can probably be attributed to things like decreased bladder capacity or simply pregnancy-related discomfort or anxiety, there is still solid evidence of increased risk of sleep apnea in expectant mothers. Heightened levels of estrogen during pregnancy can cause the mucus membranes of the airway to swell, which can restrict airflow. And since obesity contributes to sleep apnea, mothers who gain excessive weight while pregnant experience that same increased risk.
So what does it mean to have sleep apnea while pregnant? In short: danger.
Complications Linked to Sleep Apnea
It’s been well known to researchers for some time that sleep apnea in pregnant women is tied to a number of dangerous and even life-threatening pregnancy complications. In 2014, researchers reviewed data from twelve years of maternal hospitalizations. What they found was that women who suffered from sleep apnea had significantly increased likelihood of eclampsia, preeclampsia, pulmonary embolism, cardiomyopathy, and even death.
Three years later, new research is confirming what those earlier studies already found. A recent study involved the review of more than 1.5 million medical records for pregnant women from the National Perinatal Information Center database between 2010 and 2014. The researchers identified which of those 1.5 million women had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, and found that those with the disorder were almost twice as likely to be admitted to the ICU, and consistently required longer hospital stays. On top of that, pregnant women with sleep apnea were more likely to experience severe complications like hysterectomy, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary edema.
So what can pregnant women do to protect themselves from these risks? The key is awareness and good communication with healthcare professionals. If pregnant women start seeing symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get treatment before it potentially causes damage to mother or child.
Of course, pregnant women aren’t the only ones who are at risk of complications from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can strike anyone, and the disorder is accompanied by increased risk of everything from stroke to heart failure. Luckily, treatment can eliminate these risks.