Touching Lives - March 2005
Mums might breathe easier thanks to Action Medical Research
A grant from Action Medical Research has bought equipment to help monitor pregnant women involved in the study.
The £6,000 grant has bought pulse oximeters, small devices that clip to the finger and attach to the wrist. They record oxygen levels as the woman sleeps and this information, along with birthweight details, should help identify any link between sleep apnoea — a condition that causes oxygen levels to fall — and small babies.
Professor Jim Thornton is part of the study team. He said, “My interest in this goes back many years when I had a patient who had the classic signs of sleep apnoea — loud snoring and low oxygen levels during sleep — and she went on to lose her baby, which her scans had shown to be very small.
“We know that oxygen levels can have an impact on intrauterine growth. A recent study in Bolivia shows that women who always live at high altitudes deliver normal weight babies, but any who move from sea level to high altitude can have smaller babies. We also know of cases where women lose a baby during a severe asthma attack. It all indicates some link with low oxygen levels.
“There are many reasons for low birth weight, of course, but sleep apnoea is very easy to treat and if there is a link, it’s something we can quickly put right and so help prevent growth restriction in an unborn baby.
“Sleep apnoea usually occurs in middle aged and older men who are overweight, but already our study has found some examples in our patients. It will take a long time to get all the data we need to draw any firm conclusions, but we are handing out questionnaires and using the oximeters to monitor our patients, and we are very grateful to Action Medical Research for helping to make this happen.”