Sleep apnoea in pregnancy could harm health of both mother and baby
A study of obese pregnant women found those with sleep apnoea were far more likely to develop pre-eclampsiaTheir newborns also had more than double the chance of needing intensive care treatment



13:29 GMT, 21 September 2012

Women who suffer from sleep apnoea during pregnancy are more likely to have babies who suffer from early health problems, researchers say.

They found babies of mothers with the breathing disorder had a greater risk of needing neonatal intensive care than unaffected mothers.

Scientists from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland studied obese pregnant women both with and without obstructive sleep apnoea.

They found OSA was also associated
with higher rates of pre-eclampsia in the overweight women.

The pregnancy complication causes high blood pressure and for protein to leak into the urine. If untreated it can develop into eclampsia, which is a type of life-threatening seizure.

At risk Pregnancy could increase the risk of sleep apnoea, although obesity has a more definite impact

At risk Pregnancy could increase the risk of sleep apnoea, although obesity has a more definite impact

Lead author Dr Judette Louis, from the University of South Florida, said: 'Our findings show that obstructive sleep apnea can contribute to poor outcomes for both obese mothers and their babies.

'Its role as a risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes independent of obesity should be examined more closely.'

Sleep apnoea occurs when muscles and soft tissues in the throat collapse sufficiently during sleep to block the airway for 10 seconds or more. A sufferer can have as many as 100 episodes during the night, with each one jerking them out of deep sleep causing fatigue.

Some experts believe pregnancy can increase the chances of developing sleep apnoea, especially in the third trimester due to weight gain. Nasal membranes can also swell as blood vessels expand over the nine months.

Those who are overweight before they fall pregnant are more likely to develop the condition. A fifth of women in the U.S are obese when they conceive, but the number is not known in the UK.

Dr Louis and former colleagues from Case Western Reserve, analysed data for 175 obese pregnant women who had been tested for OSA at home using a portable device.

Around 15 per cent of the participants had sleep apnoea. These women were heavier on average and more likely to have high blood pressure.

Dr Judette Louis said sleep apnoea was an understudied complication of obesity in pregnancy

Dr Judette Louis said sleep apnoea was an understudied complication of obesity in pregnancy

Around 42 per cent of women with sleep apnoea had pre-eclampsia compared to 17 per cent of those without the condition.

Meanwhile nearly half (46 per cent ) of babies born to women with sleep apnoea needed intensive care treatment compared to 17 per cent of the other overweight mothers. Many of these admissions were due to respiratory distress.

Finally 65 per cent of the women with sleep apnoea required a caesaeran section compared to a third of those without the condition. Premature birth rates were similar between the groups.

Approximately one in five women are obese when they become pregnant in the U.S, according to research from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such statistics are not gathered in the UK.

While numerous studies have examined complications associated with obesity in pregnancy – including high blood pressure and gestational diabetes – sleep apnoea has been underdiagnosed and understudied.

The study authors suggest the best way to decrease obesity-related conditions that lead to poor pregnancy outcomes, including sleep apnoea, would be to treat obesity before a woman becomes pregnant, but acknowledge that 'losing weight is often difficult.'

Dr Louis said the study also points to the need for better ways to screen and treat this common form of sleep-disordered breathing during pregnancy.

The study has been published online in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.