A pregnant woman sleeping on her side. If she has gestational sleep apnea, she is at risk.

As doctors ignore gestational sleep apnea in pregnant patients, they are at risk for complications.

According to new research, one of every four pregnant women suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Unfortunately, pregnant women with OSA are more likely to be left untreated because it is not seen as a danger to either the mother or child. However, this new research suggest that OSA can be the cause of several symptoms in pregnant women. Now, researchers are recommending that doctors diagnose this condition as gestational sleep apnea.

Doctors Ignore OSA in Pregnant Women

Doctors are ignoring OSA in pregnant women because they attribute difficulty breathing during sleep, as well as daytime fatigue, to their pregnancy. Doctors are usually unwilling to refer pregnant patients to an ENT specialist, believing that symptoms will subside after their child is born. Some researchers believe that this thinking is a misstep in helping pregnant women with gestational sleep apnea.

Prof. Yehuda Ginosar, director of the Mother and Child Anesthesia Unit at the Hebrew University, and co-author of the study, states that “Currently there is a lack of uniform criteria to diagnose, treat and classify OSA in the pregnant population, which in turn complicates efforts to determine the risk factors for, and complications of, gestational sleep apnea.”

The Risk of Gestational Sleep Apnea

Without proper diagnosis and treatment of Gestational Sleep Apnea, pregnant women are left at risk. Not only do they suffer from both difficulty breathing during sleep and daytime fatigue, but the disorder is known to cause several complications in their condition, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and heart disease.

When non-pregnant adults are diagnosed with OSA, they are treated with continuous positive airway pressure (PAP machine) to relieve their symptoms. Researchers stress the importance of diagnosing pregnant women so that they might receive the same treatment. Without proper action, women and their babies are at risk.

Dr. Suzanne Karan, co-author of the study and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Director of the Anesthesiology Respiratory Physiology Laboratory at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, sends out a call to action for doctors, stating, “The time has come for our profession to wake up to the diagnosis of Gestational Sleep Apnea. This will allow us to research obstructive sleep apnea in pregnant women more effectively, and to develop and implement more effective treatments.”