Sleep Apnea Tests & Diagnosis

Published: February 1, 2012

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General Tests

When you experience symptoms of fatigue and irritability, the doctor will begin exploring your condition with a general exam. You will need to be prepared to answer a series of questions related to your personal and family medical history. These questions will help a doctor determine what tests to conduct and whether you should undergo a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea.

Physical Exam

Doctors recommend that people undergo a routine physical exam at least once a year. During this office visit, your physician will assess your overall health and determine whether additional tests or questionnaires are necessary. Make sure that you talk to your doctor about any unusual symptoms such as excessive fatigue or heart palpitations.

If you visit your doctor regularly for your physical, you may be able to prevent your sleep apnea or other resulting conditions from escalating into more serious disorders. A physical can help doctors catch problems relating to the heart, nervous system, lungs, airways, and more.

Your physical will also help you keep up to date with your general health. The doctor will identify whether you have gained a substantial amount of weight and whether you are following healthy living habits. If you are overweight, the doctor may recommend that you exercise, adopt a diet, and lose weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight can help you reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea, since excess tissue may be causing your air passageways to constrict.

Questionnaires

A doctor might ask you to complete a series of questionnaires that are related to your sleeping patterns. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is one of these questionnaires. This study will assess how likely you are to doze off in the following situations: white sitting, reading, watching television, sitting inactive in a public place, as a passenger in a moving vehicle, while lying down to rest, while talking to someone, after lunch, and in a car while stopped in traffic. Based on your responses, you will be assigned a sleepiness value, which may be used to indicate whether you have sleep apnea. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is also used to diagnose other conditions such as narcolepsy.

Other questionnaires will ask you about your lifestyle, snoring, sleep behavior, and how you feel throughout the day. You might not know the answers to these questions, so you should consider asking your friends and family about whether you snore or wake up at night.

Blood Test

A blood test cannot directly diagnose sleep apnea. In any case, a doctor may issue a blood test to rule out other conditions that produce similar symptoms of exhaustion and fatigue. A blood test can effectively identify thyroid conditions and anemia, which both cause sleeping problems and daytime fatigue. A blood test can also identify blood sugar levels to rule out problems such as diabetes. Thyroid problems, diabetes, and anemia can worsen symptoms of sleep apnea, so it is important that you know whether you have these conditions. If other conditions are left untreated, sleep apnea can cause higher levels of damage to the heart.

Sleep Studies

During a sleep study, a doctor will keep you at a laboratory for one or many nights to monitor what happens while you sleep. During a sleep study, a doctor will order a polysomnography, which is a test that documents the electrical activity of your brain, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing, air flow, and blood oxygen levels. A polysomnography is the most accurate and conclusive test available to diagnose sleep apnea.

Allergy Tests

Your allergies can cause sleep apnea symptoms to become worse. If you have seasonal allergies or if you are allergic to something specific, your airways may constrict excessively. You may be able to control your sleep apnea symptoms more effectively if you

Electrocardiogram

Al electrocardiogram (EKG) is a test used to check the condition of the heart. Typically, a doctor will use an EKG to check your heart after you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea patients are at a high risk for heart failure and other heart problems, but it is difficult to assess the extent of the damage since symptoms tend to be silent. An EKG will help a doctor assess whether your heart is experiencing problems related to sleep apnea.

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