Sleep apnea is more than just an inconvenience that leads to daytime drowsiness. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the health dangers of sleep apnea are well-documented and could make you more at risk for developing diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and more. Here’s how to get the sleep apnea diagnosis you need.
What are the warning signs of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea, also referred to as sleep disordered breathing (SDB), affects an estimated 25 million people in the U.S. Those statistics only take into account people with an actual sleep apnea diagnosis. The real numbers may be much higher.
Aside from waking up every morning feeling exhausted and unrested, here are nine signs and symptoms of sleep apnea:
- Daytime fatigue and excessive sleepiness
- Fogginess and difficulty concentrating
- Noticeable cessation of breath followed by a choking intake of air during sleep
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
- Morning headache
- Loss of sexual drive
- Nighttime sweating unrelated to another condition (e.g., menopause)
- High blood pressure
Risk factors for a sleep apnea diagnosis include obesity, gender (men are more affected than women), and high blood pressure.
Can I do a sleep apnea test at home?
One of the first indications of sleep apnea typically comes from the sleeper’s partner. They may notice an increase in snoring, followed by breathing that stops for an extended period of time and a choking, gasping inhale. There are also at-home sleep apnea tests you can take in the comfort of your own home. While an at-home test may not be as accurate as a formal sleep apnea test in a laboratory sleep setting, this option may be good for people who are unable to participate in a sleep study.
Additionally, an at-home sleep apnea test is not recommended for patients who may have central sleep apnea or other sleep disorder. Sleep apnea symptoms can also resemble symptoms of congestive heart failure or other neuromuscular diseases that need immediate diagnosis or attention.
When in doubt, it is always best to participate in a sleep study in a sleep clinic setting. They can provide the best and most accurate diagnosis.
How is sleep apnea diagnosed?
If you have some or all of the signs of sleep apnea listed above, getting a sleep apnea diagnosis is key.
A trip to your primary care physician may be your first step, depending on your insurance coverage. You may also get your initial diagnosis in an unexpected place: your dentist. Your dentist observes all changes in your oral health, including the state of the muscles and the uvula in your throat. Combined with other symptoms, your dentist can spot the symptoms of sleep apnea. They can then recommend sleep screening for a diagnosis (and you may see them later for treatment, too!).
Although you could technically begin treatment for sleep apnea without a formal diagnosis, getting a sleep apnea diagnosis is crucial to rule out other serious disorders. Even if using a CPAP machine or a sleep apnea dental device got you a better night of sleep, an underlying condition could be worsening. Because of this, we recommend visiting a qualified sleep clinic for a formal sleep apnea test.
What can I expect during a sleep apnea test?
When you go for a sleep study, look for sleep labs that are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. There are other qualified centers, but your insurance company may only cover costs from a fully accredited clinic.
The formal name of a sleep study is polysomnography. This procedure takes about six hours and measures the following things:
- Brain waves with an electroencephalogram (EEG)
- Chin and eye movement that signals sleep stages with an electrooculogram (EOG)
- Heart rate and rhythm with an electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood
- Leg movement
Each of these is measured with various leads and lines connected to machines (or with a band around the chest for respiration or clip on the finger). While there are no needles involved, getting comfortable while hooked up to wires and machines can be challenging. Sleep labs understand this and do everything they can to keep you comfortable.
In another diagnostic practice called a split-night study, the first part of the study attempts to diagnose the presence of sleep apnea. If a sleep apnea diagnosis is achieved, the sleeper is fitted with a CPAP machine to see if and how they respond to this therapy for the remainder of the study.
What is the apnea-hypopnea index?
The most important measurement taken during either sleep test is the apnea-hypop