Although it has long been known that sleep apnea leads to similar risks for pregnant women as for others, a new study shows those risks may be even more serious than previously suspected. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida (USF), shows that sleep apnea increases the risk of death during maternal hospitalization by five times.

Since maternal deaths have increased in recent years, it seems that this is an important part of the puzzle, and sleep apnea treatment may help to bring those rates back down.

A Large, National Database

Researchers at USF looked at a representative sample of maternal hospitalizations from 1998-2009, called the Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS). They found that women with sleep apnea were significantly more likely to suffer from many different types of maternal complications. This included:

  • In-hospital death ~5 times higher risk
  • Preeclampsia 2.5 times higher risk
  • Eclampsia 5.4 times higher risk
  • Cardiomyopathy 9.0 times higher risk
  • Pulmonary embolism 4.5 times higher risk

The NIS showed that the rate of sleep apnea increased in pregnant women from 0.7 in 1998 to 7.3 in 2009, corresponding with an increase in obesity rates.

Independent of Obesity

One of the big puzzles when dealing with obstructive sleep apnea risks is that the condition commonly occurs with obesity, which can make it hard to know whether sleep apnea is responsible for negative health effects or if both are related to obesity. Because of the large sample size in this study, it was possible to tease out the difference between the effects of obesity and sleep apnea. This study found that in almost all cases risks were higher with sleep apnea independent of obesity. The only conditions that didn’t seem to be associated with sleep apnea were cesarean delivery, gestational hypertension, and stillbirth.

This study shows how important it is for pregnant women to discuss sleep apnea with their doctor and try to find a sleep apnea treatment solution that works for them.