Although you may have noticed certain symptoms of sleep apnea, such as snoring, it is not always a simple task to verify your suspicions. Even if you have warning signs that are commonly associated with sleep apnea it does necessarily mean that you are actually suffering from this disorder. In fact, sometimes these indicators can be related to a completely different condition. However, if you do suspect that you might have sleep apnea it is important to understand the disorder and the way it is diagnosed.
What is Sleep Apnea?
This is a disorder that is identified by the interruption of breathing multiple times during sleep. After a period where breathing is suspended, which can last from a few seconds to a minute or more, the individual will choke or gasp for air. This cycle can repeat throughout the night and is a danger to the person’s health.
- Sleep apnea can be caused by a number of physical issues such as:
- Having a large neck
- Being overweight
- Having enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- A small jawbone
- Throat tissue that is too relaxed during sleep
This type of sleep apnea is known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea but the condition can also be caused by Central Sleep Apnea, which is when the signal between the brain and the muscles in charge of breathing does not occur or is not received. A third type of sleep apnea is Complex Sleep Apnea and is a combination of both Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea.
What Are Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Many people who suffer from sleep apnea are not aware of waking up during the night to breathe or other more obvious symptoms. Certain signs are usually first noticed by a partner, or roommate, and it can be difficult to differentiate between an irregular sleep disturbance and a full-blown disorder. Some of the chief symptoms associated with sleep apnea include:
- Intense fatigue and sleepiness during the day
- Waking up abruptly during the night to breathe
- Snoring or gasping for air
- Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
- Problems with memory, mood and concentration
- Hormonal problems
- Elevated blood pressure
- Headaches in the morning
One or more of these symptoms can indicate a problem and a medical consultation should be next on the list to reach a solution. Doctors have several processes and methods that they can use to diagnose this condition.
Sleep and Medical History
Before they attempt any diagnostic procedures the doctor will likely start with some questions about the patient’s medical and sleep history. The questions used to help determine the existence of sleep apnea may be related to the following areas:
- Medication and alcohol consumption
- Perceived quality of sleep
- Smoking and caffeine habits
- Sleep positions
- Mental focus and mood
- Periods of sleepiness and fatigue
- Ease of sleep
- Questions for the bed partner
The doctor may also request that you keep a sleep journal to record all information that pertains to your sleep. There is also the option of using audio or video recording during the night to observe sleep. The information-gathering period will usually be followed by a physical examination.
Especially in the case of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, there are usually physical characteristics that can be identified in an exam. These features can consist of:
- A wide neck measurement
- A large tongue
- Obesity that is usually focused on the upper body
- Irregularities in the airways or soft palate
The physical examination will either reveal the possibility of a physical cause for sleep apnea or give your doctor the opportunity to rule out other issues. These issues can consist of other sleep disorders and psychological or medical problems. Even if there are no physical characteristics found that are associated with sleep apnea the doctor should still perform other studies to gain further insight.
In order to effectively determine the problems that the patient is experiencing during sleep doctors will usually perform some type of sleep study. The studies can take place in a sleep lab or at home and consist of a full overnight or a partial overnight.
- These studies involve polysomnography, which involves recording brain waves, eye movements, heart rhythm, changes in breathing and oxygen levels as well as other activities during sleep.
- When patients arrive at the lab they should not have deviated from their normal daily activities.
- Once they are asleep their sleep cycles and occurrences of apnea will be recorded.
- Overnight studies are the most effective for diagnosing sleep apnea.
- However, because of the expenses and limited resources available, this study it is sometimes split up over more than one night.
- Many doctors are also beginning to favor home studies.
- Portable devices that are now available or are being developed allow patients to undergo a study at home instead of at a lab.
- The abilities of these devices vary but the most advanced ones are capable of measuring everything that is measured in a sleep lab.
- Once of the major concerns with a home study is the lack of observation that can lead to missing factors such as snoring.
- Although home studies have been found to be accurate with high-quality devices, there are some cases that will require a patient to undergo a lab study.
Sleep apnea can be very detrimental to a person’s health and wellbeing but advancements in medicine and technology can usually treat the problem. This allows the individual to avoid issues that can develop over time from sleep apnea such as brain damage, a shortened life span and many other problematic concerns. Although a doctor is required to diagnose and treat sleep apnea, the process starts with the patient discussing their concerns with a medical professional.