Sleep apnea is not a condition that is typically diagnosed during a general physical exam. It cannot be detected through blood work or any other simple tests. There are a couple of different ways that this condition can be diagnosed, however.
Symptoms Based Diagnosis
A physician may diagnose you with Sleep apnea if you describe the symptoms you are experiencing. The symptoms might be clear enough to allow the physician to recommend an appropriate sleep apnea treatment. Your response to that treatment would then dictate how the course of treatment would continue.
While this can be an effective way to diagnose and treat sleep apnea, many doctors agree that polysomnography, also known as a sleep study, provides much more useful information regarding the severity of the condition and the underlying causes. This information can help design a more effective and customized treatment plan.
Polysomnography (Sleep Study)
Sleep studies, referred to as polysomnography, are used to study many different sleep-related disorders, from narcolepsy to insomnia to seizure disorders. It is also used to diagnose sleep apnea.
During the sleep study, the patient is connected to many different monitoring devices. This equipment is used to monitor breathing, brain activity, arm and leg movements, blood oxygen levels, and many other bodily functions. A technician monitors the outputs of these devices throughout the night and also takes note of loud snoring or other notable behaviours.
Patients are typically asked to come to a sleep clinic or hospital several hours before bedtime to have time to grow accustomed to the equipment. If it is not possible to complete an in-patient sleep study, there are portable monitoring devices that can be used to achieve similar readings at home.
During the sleep study, the technician monitors and tracks any pauses in breathing and/or shortening of breath. If these episodes happen regularly within the first four hours of the study, the technician may wake the individual to begin using CPAP treatment.
Split Night Sleep Study
If there are signs of sleep apnea within the first four hours and a CPAP titration study is used for the last four hours, this is known as a split night sleep study. CPAP or (continuous positive airway pressure) is used to open the airway and increase airflow.
During the titration study, a technician can monitor the patient’s response to the CPAP device and determine the appropriate amount of pressure and the right mouthpiece for the individual. It is convenient to take all of these steps as part of a single, split night sleep study rather than have the individual come back for a separate CPAP titration study on a second night.
Seeking Help for Sleep Apnea
The first step toward reaching a sleep apnea diagnosis is to speak with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist about the symptoms you are experiencing. They can help you with the appropriate tests and treatments or refer you to a sleep clinic that can provide these solutions. Properly diagnosing and treating this condition can help to restore your sleep quality resulting in many other improvements in your life.