The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Preeclampsia
That little snore of yours that your partner finds so adorable may not seem like much. But when it comes to pregnancy, that little snore has the potential of causing preeclampsia, a less-than-desired condition involving high blood pressure.
When it comes to the health of you and your baby, that cute little snore is not worth the risk. If you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, you might want to get your sleep apnea checked out sooner rather than later.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition when a person stops breathing temporarily numerous times throughout the night. One reason for this could be due to a lack of the brain’s communication to the muscles, called Central Sleep Apnea.
The most common form of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is when the airways are partially or completely blocked during sleep. You can read more about types of sleep apnea in our blog The 3 Types of Sleep Apnea Explained: Obstructive, Central, & Mixed.
What Is Hypertension, or High Blood Pressure?
While the name may seem self-explanatory, it can be difficult to fully understand what high blood pressure, or hypertension, actually does. Luckily, the American Heart Association answers that question in a way that’s easy to understand:
“High blood pressure is when your blood pressure, the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels, is consistently too high… When the heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a network of tube-shaped blood vessels, which include arteries, veins and capillaries. '
'This pressure — blood pressure — is the result of two forces: The first force (systolic pressure) occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries that are part of the circulatory system. The second force (diastolic pressure) is created as the heart rests between heart beats.”
Unfortunately, those with sleep apnea often experience heart disease and an increase of blood pressure when left untreated. And though sleep apnea is not always coupled with heart disease, a connection between the two is not uncommon.
This is due to blood oxygen levels dropping during the brief pauses in breathing at night, which then causes the brain to send a signal to constrict vessels in order to increase oxygen flow. This restriction in blood oxygen can lead to an increased blood pressure level during waking hours for those experiencing sleep apnea.
Leaving high blood pressure untreated for too long can lead to a plethora of cardio issues. You can (and should, regardless of your risk status) check your blood pressure levels with an automated cuff either at your doctor’s office, at your pharmacy’s seated station, or even in the comfort of your own home where you’ll feel the most relaxed.
If you are noticing a rise in numbers, a few lifestyle changes like more water and physical activity can help to lower them. If you’re finding that your numbers are still high and rising, then be sure to visit your family practitioner or hypertension specialist.
What Is Preeclampsia?
Sometimes known as toxemia, preeclampsia is defined as “a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and usually the presence of protein in the urine.”
When a pregnant woman experiences high blood pressure, the force of pressure can cause blood vessels to contract while “small blood vessels clamp down in the kidneys, liver, brain and other organs in the body” and show protein in the urine. This may not sound like much, but the results could be catastrophic for both baby and mom.
Affecting roughly 5% of pregnancies, preeclampsia typically occurs after 20 weeks and can sometimes last up to six weeks post-partum. When left untreated, it can affect the blood vessels in the placenta and damage baby’s blood and oxygen intake, which can lead to issues with fetal development.
It can also eventually lead to eclampsia, a serious condition that causes seizures that could be followed by a coma and the loss of the pregnancy, if not the death of the mother. The only cure is delivery, which can cause a whole new set of complications if the baby’s development isn’t far enough along to sustain outside the womb.
Health care professionals have yet to identify the causes of preeclampsia, but some speculation includes “changes in biology of the placenta,” “a variety of hormones and other proteins that are in the mother’s circulation,” “improper cardiovascular adaptations to the pregnant state,” and even an “underlying maternal risks for cardiovascular disease.”
Other than high blood pressure, some signs of preeclampsia include swelling of the face and feet, sudden weight gain, impaired vision, nausea and blinding headaches. Of course, many of these symptoms are also a side effect of being pregnant, and some women don’t experience any symptoms at all.
Your best indicator as to whether you are developing the fatal condition is your blood pressure, so be sure to keep a close watch on your numbers throughout your pregnancy.
What’s the Connection?
Explained in our blog Pregnancy and Sleep Apnea: OSA and Increasing Weight Gain, “untreated [Obstructive Sleep Apnea] in pregnant women can lead to complications during pregnancy including high blood pressure, enlarged heart, pulmonary blood clots, more frequent preeclampsia, neonatal intensive care unit admissions, and cesarean delivery… That’s why it’s so important to diagnose OSA and take steps to treat it.”
Even if you didn’t have hypertension or sleep apnea before pregnancy, it doesn’t mean you’re not at risk.
Not only can obesity and weight gain during pregnancy contribute to the risk of airways being blocked, but even “an increase in estrogen during pregnancy can cause the mucus membranes lining the airway to swell and constrict airflow” posing the risk of developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Not to mention that women are far less frequently diagnosed with OSA, leading to a lack of treatment and prevention of related complications.
So while you might not think much of your nightly snoring, there are reasons to be concerned when it comes to pregnancy. While the two may seem irrelevant to one another, the connection and a lack of diagnosis can cause some serious side effects that you won’t want to ignore.
If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant in the near future and think you may have sleep apnea, you’ll want to be sure to visit your nearest sleep clinic right away.
Luckily, the sleep experts at Alaska Sleep Clinic are well-versed in a variety of sleep related complications, including Obstructive Sleep Apnea. If you live in Alaska, call Alaska Sleep Clinic's board-certified sleep specialists for a free 10-minute consultation.