The World of Pregnancy

Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy: Research, Signs, Risk Factors & Treatment

Sleep apnea during pregnancy represents a risk factor for both the pregnant woman and baby, warn scientists at the University of South Florida. According to them, pregnant women who are suffering of this disorder present a higher risk of needing additional medical care during pregnancy, while the illness causes the baby to also need additional care during the neonatal period.

Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is also known as obstructive sleep apnea. There are 2 more types of sleep apnea:

  • Central, which involves the central nervous system because the brain cannot signal the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex, which is a combination between the first 2 types, this one also being the most common (84%) and occurs when there are repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the upper airway during sleep, which are characterized by breathing breaks (each break is named apnea and may last from 10 seconds up to several minutes) or superficial/less frequent breathing periods (these are known as hippopnies).

During such an episode, the diaphragm and chest muscles struggle to open the obstructed airways and to draw air into the lungs (because the neck muscles relax intermittently and interfere with breathing), breathing being generally resumed through a strong sound, torsion of the body or snoring. The issue that may occur is that the oxygen flow towards the vital organs is also reduced (and carbon dioxide accumulates in blood) and may consequently cause arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). However, the brain is alerted to awake the person who sleeps and breathe again normally.

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Normally, sleep is managed by the brain, and people need a certain amount of rest (7 – 8 of sleep when adults are concerned, from which 15% – 25% need to represent a deep sleep) for the body and mind to be revived. If there are only a few episodes of deep sleep, the organism is affected. Because of the way it appears, even though the affected persons are in a large number, a lot of them aren`t even aware of its existence, because during the period of wake-up period there aren`t any breathing issues. It`s identified through the impact it has on the body, because it leads to the state of fatigue and drowsiness, along with a high degree of discomfort during sleep. In extreme cases, it may even lead to death, due to the body`s deprivation of oxygen. – Visit this link!

Research & Statistics

A team of scientists at Brown University in the US has discovered that pregnant women who suffer from sleep apnea present a risk 4 times higher of suffering complications during pregnancy and delivery. The scientists have analyzed data received from 1.500.000 pregnant women. According to them, pregnant women who suffer of sleep apnea stay hospitalized after birth up to 5 days more. Also, sleep apnea increases the risk of preeclampsia with 122% and the risk of intensive care with 174%. The risk of eclampsia increases with 125% in this category of patients. The researchers have drawn attention on the necessity of treatment involving sleep apnea, especially if these women are expecting a child, in order to prevent complications.

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More than that, experts warn that for expecting mothers who become obese, the risk of developing sleep apnea is a lot higher. Studies performed on groups of pregnant women who become obese compared with groups of pregnant women who weren`t obese showed that 15% of pregnant women who were obese suffered of sleep apnea.

Others experts consider that pregnancy increases the mother`s risk of developing sleep apnea especially during the third trimester, due to the increased weight. Scientists warn that 1 out of 5 women gain weight in an excessive manner during pregnancy and outline the fact that lots of these health issues are associated with obesity in pregnant women, which include gestational diabetes and development of hypertension.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Snoring.
  • Drowsiness and weakness during the day.
  • Long breaks of breathing during sleep.
  • Headaches after awakening.
  • Cough the sour taste in the mouth.
  • Sore throat or dry mouth when waking.

Risk Factors

  • Excessive weight.
  • Family history of sleep apnea.
  • Age over 65 years.
  • The black race is more affected under 35 years.
  • Smoking.
  • Consumption of sedatives or alcohol.
  • Sinus illnesses, nasal obstruction due to septal deviation or allergies.
  • Large neck size (circumference over 43 cm).
  • Large size of tonsils, tongue, maxillary bone.

You Need to Visit the Doctor Immediately

If you experience symptoms that may indicate a serious illness or any of the following signs, you should visit the doctor as soon as possible:

  • Profuse sweating.
  • Pain or sensation of chest pressure.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body.
  • Load and noisy snoring that would bother the person next to you.
  • There`s intense drowsiness during the day which can make the affected person fall asleep while working, driving or watching television,.
  • Shortness of breath that would arouse the affected person from sleep.
  • There are intermittent breaks during sleep.

Treatment

The treatment depends mainly of causative factors, and there are in this regard several options, the purpose of all being of opening the airways and restoring normal breathing during sleep, but also of removing the disturbing signs. The treatment can help in lowering tension, heart diseases, diabetes and the risk of stroke.

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The conservative treatment involves mainly changes of lifestyle, more specifically losing weight when obese women are concerned (even losing only 10% of weight can help), avoiding coffee, smoking, alcohol or consistent meals before going to bed, as well as sedatives especially before falling asleep (they relax the neck muscles). It`s also recommended to sleep on one side with your head a bit lifted and follow a regular sleeping schedule (avoid sleep deprivation). – Find out more!

For women suffering of sinus or nasal obstruction, nasal sprays are recommended that involves using a device that has the size of a napkin box with a mask on the mouth and nose, and the air is forced to prevent the upper airways gave in during sleep. The pressure transmitted by this device is continuous and constant. The device is recommended to adults with moderate or severe apnea, and leads to cessation of snoring, but might present some side effects like: stuffy nose, dry mouth, headache and irritated skin on the face. If the pressure isn`t adjusted in a correct manner, you may experience abdominal discomfort and stomach bloating. It`s important for the device to be used for a longer period of time, although this may prove to be rather difficult. There are also other similar devices that might help, depending on what the doctor recommends.

The doctor may also recommend prosthetic mandibular devices made of plastic that prevent the tongue from blocking the neck and/or may advance the mandible, but they especially maintain the airways open during sleep. They are designed by a somnologist together with an orthodontist to be individualized properly. Otherwise, they may lead to mandibular pain, their effectiveness being of 75%. – Check for more!

Associated medication therapy is actually addressed to:

  • Nasal obstruction – special sprays with steroids or topical nasal decongestants.
  • Hypothyroidism – when this is caused by apnea.
  • Maintaining daytime vigilance – tricyclic antidepressants, medroxyprogesterone, acetazolamide for central sleep apnea.
Image courtesy of whattoexpect.com
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