BOSTON – Newborns exposed to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in utero are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with congenital anomalies, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
The researchers’ analysis covered data from more than 1.4 million births during 2010-2014. Circulatory, musculoskeletal, and central nervous systems were among the types of anomalies they saw in the 17.3% of babies born to mothers who had OSA during pregnancy. These babies were also more likely to require intensive care at birth, compared with those born to mothers who had not been diagnosed with OSA.
Additionally, the investigators found that the 0.1% of women who had a diagnosis of OSA were 2.76 times more likely to have babies that required some kind of resuscitative effort at birth. Specifically, 0.5% of the newborns of the mothers with OSA required resuscitation, compared with 0.1% of the other group’s babies. The newborns of women with OSA were also 2.25 times more likely to have a longer hospital stay.
Mothers with OSA were older and more likely to be non-Hispanic black and have a diagnosis of obesity, tobacco use, and drug use but not alcohol use.
“We can’t say for sure that sleep apnea is causing these outcomes,” said abstract presenter and principal investigator Ghada Bourjeily, MD, of Brown University and Miriam Hospital, both in Providence, R.I., in an interview.
“We know that women who have sleep apnea also often have other morbidities, so we don’t know what might have contributed to the congenital outcomes,” said Dr. Bourjeily. “We also don’t know if treating sleep apnea can reverse or prevent birth complications or even maternal complications, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.”
Ongoing studies are looking at maternal continuous positive airway pressure therapy use and neonatal outcomes, but “they are nothing to write home about yet,” she said.
“This is an underdiagnosed condition and it’s probably undercoded too, but we know from another study that the prevalence of OSA in the first trimester in an all-comers population that was screened for the condition is 4%,” said Dr. Bourjeily. “If another 3% of [the study participants] actually had OSA, then all of these findings are potentially underestimated.”
The majority of OSA in pregnant women that has been identified in prospective studies is mild and not necessarily something that most physicians would treat, she noted. “In our study, the ones who were diagnosed were those who probably went to their doctors and complained of sleepiness or loud snoring.”
The researchers also determined that the newborns of mothers with sleep apnea were more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit (25.3% vs. 8.1%) or a special care nursery (34.9% vs. 13.6%).
A diagnosis of OSA was established when a diagnosis code for OSA was present on the delivery discharge record. Maternal and infant outcomes were collected for ICD-9 and procedural codes.
Dr. Bourjeily received research equipment support from Respironics.