Pregnant Women More Likely To Stop Breathing At Night

As a follow-up to my post last week on why pregnant women may have an increased risk of stroke, here’s a study published this month in the journal Sleep. Researchers compared 34 women with gestational hypertension vs. 26 healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Significant sleep-disordered breathing was defined as a respiratory disturbance index (RDI) of 5. Pregnant women with high blood pressure had significant sleep-disordered breathing in 53%, whereas 12% of healthy pregnant women had sleep-disordered breathing. Hypertension is a known risk factor for preeclampsia and stroke.

This study is in line with my suspicion that pregnant women, while at risk for obstructive sleep apnea, probably have shorter obstructions and RERAs (respiratory-effort related arousals), rather than frank apneas. Increased progesterone and various other physiologic changes seen in pregnancy can increase your respiratory drive and lower arousal thresholds, leading to more frequent arousals from deep sleep.

Notice how commonly pregnant women snore, and they’re extremely tired. If they weren’t pregnant, doctors would suspect obstructive sleep apnea. Then why do we have this double standard? Why can’t women who suddenly gain weight and snore be routinely screened for obstructive sleep apnea?

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