Tests for Sleep Apnea

doctor examining patient’s throat

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  • There are different methods used to diagnose sleep apnea, beginning with a simple test that can help check whether you're breathing properly
  • Apart from a physical exam, doctors may make an evaluation for sleep apnea based on symptoms. They also can refer you to a sleep disorder center, where a sleep specialist can examine you and help you decide if you need further evaluation

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from sleep apnea, there are different methods used to diagnose the disease, beginning with a simple test that can help you check whether or not you're breathing properly.

First, stand with your back against a wall, with your heels, buttocks, shoulder blades and head touching the wall. Say "Hello," swallow and then breathe. If you're able to do these activities easily and comfortably in this position, this means that your mouth and throat are clear. Failure to perform these means that your breathing is obstructed and can worsen when you lie down to sleep. This can eventually lead to the development of sleep apnea.

Physical Exams for Sleep Apnea

A physical exam can be done initially to diagnose sleep apnea. A doctor will check your mouth, nose and throat for extra or large tissues. Adults with sleep apnea tend to have a large uvula or a large soft palate. The uvula is the tissue that hangs from the middle of the back of your mouth, while the soft palate refers to the roof of your mouth located in the back of your throat. Children with sleep apnea may have enlarged tonsils.1

You May Also Be Advised to Undergo These Sleep Apnea Tests

Apart from a physical exam, doctors may make an evaluation for sleep apnea based on symptoms. They also can refer you to a sleep disorder center, where a sleep specialist can examine you and help you decide if you need further evaluation. The evaluation entails overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during sleep. Some tests that may be done to detect sleep apnea include:2,3

Nocturnal polysomnography: You will be hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements and blood oxygen levels during sleep. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, this is the most common sleep study used to diagnose sleep apnea.

A nocturnal polysomnography is done at sleep centers or sleep labs. Staff at the sleep center will use sensors to check your condition throughout the night. Test results will be reviewed by a sleep specialist to check for your sleep apnea and/or its severity, and will be used to determine the ideal treatment you may need to undergo.

Home sleep tests: These refer to simplified tests you can use at home to diagnose sleep apnea. They typically involve measuring heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns. If you have sleep apnea, test results will show drops in oxygen level during “apneas” and subsequent rises after waking up.

If test results are abnormal, the doctor may prescribe therapy without further testing, and use of items like portable monitoring devices. A word of caution on portable monitoring devices, though: They don’t detect all cases of sleep apnea, so the doctor may still recommend a polysomnography even if initial results are normal.

Should test results determine that you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor can refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor to possibly rule out blockage in the nose or throat. Meanwhile, an evaluation by a cardiologist or a neurologist may be needed to look for possible causes of central sleep apnea.

MORE ABOUT SLEEP APNEA

Sleep Apnea: An Introduction

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep Apnea Causes

Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Sleep Apnea Testing

Sleep Apnea Surgery

Sleep Apnea Prevention

Sleep Apnea FAQ



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