Sleep disorders continue to develop as a significant health issue in the US today. Experts estimate that at least 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with up to 80% of cases of sleep apnea going undiagnosed. Left untreated, sleep apnea can bring about many health complications including high blood pressure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, metabolic syndrome, chronic heart failure, type 2 diabetes, depress, and motor vehicle accidents. All of these issues cause loss of quality of life, and sometimes even lead to premature death.
How Can I Tell If I Have Sleep Apnea?
In order to understand if you might have sleep apnea, it is important to have an idea of what signs and symptoms to look for and how you might be experiencing them. Here are some of the more common symptoms and signs of sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring
- Waking up with a headache in the morning
- Fatigue, sleepiness during activity (such as driving)
- Occasionally waking with gasping for air or choking sensation
- Insomnia, inability to sleep through the night, restless sleep
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
- Irritability, depression, mood swings, personality changes
- Poor work performance
- Memory loss, learning problems, inability to concentrate
- Decreased libido
- Waking up to urinate frequently
What Is a Sleep Apnea Test?
Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed while a person is sleeping, which makes it difficult for a person to have any idea if they might have the condition. Often, a person is observed by a partner or family member which leads to the recognition that there might be a problem.
Traditionally, sleep apnea tests (call polysomnography) are performed in a sleep clinic. The room is typically much like a hotel room, but the clinicians attach the person to a number of machines that take measurements while you are sleeping. These may include oxygen levels, heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, leg and body movements, sleep cycles, airflow, and more. When in a sleep clinic, a video recording device may also be used to observe sleep patterns.
At Home Sleep Apnea Test
More and more insurance companies in the US are beginning to appreciate the value of at home tests for sleep apnea. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, you should see a medical professional right away. If your physician suspects that you have moderate to severe sleep apnea without other significant medical conditions, you may be recommended for a home test for sleep apnea.
A home test for sleep apnea prescribed by your doctor will typically require you to pick up the equipment from your doctor’s office or a sleep clinic. If needed, delivery to your home may be arranged. If you are on medications, be sure to check with your physician about whether or not you should continue to take them prior to the at home sleep apnea test.
The device used for your home test for sleep apnea will come with instructions on how to use it. You will need to attach sensors to your body in order to take certain measurements, and you may need to press a button to turn the machine on when you go to bed. Measurements taken during an at home sleep apnea test will likely include oxygen levels, breathing patterns, heart rate, and airflow. Try to sleep as you normally would, and then remove the sensors in the morning when you wake up.
The data that is collected from your at home sleep apnea test will be scored and interpreted by a sleep team. This may take a few days, or even a few weeks. Your sleep physician will then consult with you about the results and make recommendations for treatment if the tests indicate that you do have sleep apnea. Portable monitoring devices do not always get the information needed. If your test does not record enough data for a conclusive diagnosis, you may be recommended for further testing in a sleep
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
Although sleep apnea is a serious condition that should not be ignored, the good news is that there are also a variety of treatment options that are fairly non-invasive and allow people to stop suffering from the negative health effects. Your physician will help you to determine how severe your sleep apnea as well as what is the cause of the problem. The cause will then determine what the necessary treatments are.
Some of the more common treatments for sleep apnea include:
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
The most common treatment used for obstructive sleep apnea, this CPAP machine forces air through the breathing passages to keep them open. This machine is attached to the face by a hose and a mask. Some people find this to be uncomfortable at first, but most people get used to the mask and are able to sleep well with it.
Some people have mild sleep apnea that is exacerbated by sleeping on the back, which means it can often be relieved by changing positions to side sleeping or stomach sleeping. This may be helped by devices that vibrate when the person moves to the back. Also, certain pillows and mattresses may be helpful in maintaining a comfortable sleeping position that reduces the potential for the airways to be blocked.
Some people need surgery to eliminate sleep apnea due to physical blockage of airways. This may be related to enlarged tonsils or adenoids (usually in children), deviated septum, enlarged tongue (sometimes related to thyroid problems) or other forms of blocked breathing passages.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that requires a doctor’s care. Many people don’t seek a diagnosis because a sleep study in a clinic seems scary, and your doctor may provide you a way to have an at-home sleep apnea test. But even if a medical professional recommends a home test for sleep apnea, it is critical that you are in direct contact with a doctor who can help you determine a diagnosis and the best course of action for treatment.