Sleep Apnea Risk for Pregnant Women With Gestational Diabetes

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As most women that have been through pregnancy can tell you – all three trimesters can be a hellish experience. Also, any dedicated husband or partner can tell you about the late night trips to the market and the fits of rage if you forget the sour cream, peanut butter, or chocolate. Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t forget the chocolate. While it doesn’t come close to the three years of gestation that some shark species must endure or the strange gender bending pregnancy of the sea horse, human gestation can have it’s strange symptoms and side effects nonetheless. You’ve got the strange cravings, the surging hormones, hemorrhoids, soreness, morning sickness, migraines, itchy skin and more. Women who are pregnant are also at risk for something called gestational diabetes, which is a type of high blood sugar diabetes that is usually diagnosed around the second trimester. Now, a new study is pointing out that women with gestational diabetes might also be at risk for obstructive sleep apnea.

Women with gestational diabetes are seven times more likely to have sleep apnea compared to other pregnant women.

- Sirimon Reutrakul, MD

The study, which was published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, illustrates that women with gestational diabetes are seven times more likely to have sleep apnea compared to other pregnant women. While the results of this study do not infer a cause and effect relationship between gestational diabetes and sleep apnea, it does infer a possible domino effect. Previous studies have shown that disrupted sleep can increase the risk of diabetes and diabetes can increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea and vice versa. And while there is no one consensus among the healthcare and scientific community as to the exact cause of gestational diabetes – it could be the late night sugar binges, an increased need for energy, or an increase of hormones that can block insulin production – there is no doubt a strong connection between the two conditions.

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Roughly 18% of expectant mothers suffer from gestational diabetes and, compounded with sleep apnea, it can make pregnancy very uncomfortable for mother and unborn child – more uncomfortable than pregnancy already is. Researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago took a closer look at 15 pregnant women with gestational diabetes, 15 pregnant women who did not have diabetes, and 15 women who were not pregnant and did not have diabetes – otherwise known as the control group. What researchers found was that a whopping 75% of pregnant women with gestational diabetes also had obstructive sleep apnea. As if trying to get your forty winks wasn’t hard enough.

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Researchers say, though, that this study should be a harbinger of optimism rather than a sign of foreboding. The section of pregnant women in the study who did not have gestational diabetes got roughly 1 more full hour of sleep a night and they slept more restfully. Because sleep apnea is known to cause diabetes to begin with, researchers recommend pregnant women who are more obese or have signs of higher than usual glucose levels undergo CPAP, or positive airway pressure, therapy to alleviate any symptoms before they get worse. Doctors also recommend drinking plenty of fluids and minimizing the late night binges of Toblerone, Sugar Smacks, tapioca, milk shakes, and those Twinkies you have been stockpiling in the pantry, but I guess anyone could tell you that.

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