Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

If you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea it is essential to schedule a visit with your doctor. A physical exam will be the first part of your doctors visit. He or she will pay special attention to any area that may indicate a problem with sleep apnea.

The doctor will carefully examine your nose, mouth and throat for signs of large or swollen tissues. As examples this might include the tonsils, the soft palate which is to be found at the roof of your mouth in the back of your throat, and the uvula which is the piece of skin that can be found hanging from the middle section of the back of your mouth.

You doctor will also ask you a series of questions regarding your medical history in order to form a framework for the symptoms you are experiencing. In particular your doctor will want to know all your symptoms, when first started, how you sleep throughout the night and whether or your daytime functioning has been impaired as a result of your symptoms.

Sleep Recording Testing

If sleep apnea is suspected a doctor will often send a patient for a sleep-recording test, which will help more closely what the problem is. This kind of test is usually performed in a sleep laboratory or sleep center, and may or may not be part of a hospital. In some places patients are required to spend the night at a sleep center while the test is being performed while in other cases the sleep-recording test can be done at home.

The most routinely administered sleep-recording test is known as a polysomnogram (or abbreviated to PSG). This special test records a number of different functions which include brain waves, muscle activity, eye movement, breathing rate, heart rate, the level of oxygen in the blood and the amount of air that is inhaled and exhaled from the lungs during sleep.

Polysomnogram Overnight Stay

When the sleep test is performed, the patient goes to sleep as normally at the sleep center as they do at home. The test will be closely monitored throughout the patients sleeping hours by the hospital staff present. The next morning after the test has been completed it will be looked over and analyzed by a sleep medicine specialist.

The specialist is then able to make a diagnosis of sleep apnea or rule it out. He or she can also determine whether it is a mild, moderate or severe case and can recommend treatments that would be effective. The PSG will not cause any pain or discomfort to the patient whatsoever.

In-Home PSG

There are instances in which a PSG test is done in the comfort of a patients home. In this case the test is a home monitoring test and it can be used in much the same way as the PSG that is administered at a sleep center. The home monitor will record your breathing and how much effort you must put into it, the rate at which air is inhaled and exhaled from your lungs, it will take an accurate reading of your heart rate, and it will note how much oxygen is in your bloodstream.

A sleep technician or technologist will need to visit you at home to attach the monitor to your body and you will be required to keep it connected to you for the entire duration of the night.

You can go to bed and go to sleep on this night just as you do every night and the next day the technician will even return to your home to retrieve the monitor or you will be instructed to return it to the sleep center or hospital. From that point on the results will be analyzed and a proper diagnosis made.

Image: Adrian Wressell, Heart of England NHSFT. Wellcome Images