Diagnosis: always better to know…
Early detection and diagnosis are important when it comes to sleep apnea. For a start, it may be helpful to ask a partner, family members or friends if you snore loudly or have pauses in breathing during the night. They are usually the ones who notice it first(1,2). Other ways to assist self-detection include the quick and simple Stop-Bang Questionnaire to identify key risk factors, and recording yourself sleeping.
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible. A diagnosis of sleep apnea can only be made with a sleep study, at a sleep clinic or at home with special equipment and specialized professionals.
Visiting your doctor
Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and carry out a physical examination before deciding whether you should be referred to a sleep specialist.
The sleep specialist may ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will probably have to fill in a form - usually the Epworth Sleepiness Scale(1) - about how sleepy you feel when awake. They may also measure your weight and your neck circumference and do some breathing tests. If you show symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the specialist will prescribe a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis.
Testing your sleep
The overnight sleep study carried out at a sleep clinic is the most comprehensive way of diagnosing sleep apnea. It involves a test, known as ‘polysomnography’ that records the following detailed information during the night:(2)
- Brain activity (electroencephalography)
- Muscle tone (electromyography)
- Movement of your chest and abdomen
- Airflow through your mouth and nose
- Heart rate and blood oxygen levels (pulse oximetry)
- Heart electrocardiography
None of these procedures are painful. Sound recording and video equipment may also be used.
Once the tests have been completed, the doctor at the sleep clinic will tell you whether or not you have OSA, how much it interrupts your sleep and impacts your health, and consequently recommend the appropriate treatment.(2)
Ask for a diagnosis. It is always better to know. If you do have sleep apnea, you can get treatment and improve your life. If not, you will still have progressed the research into the cause of your sleep disorder.
In some countries, it is also possible to diagnose you at home:
The polysomnography can be conducted at your home, without a technician in attendance guaranteeing the quality of the data collection. A polygraphy can be conducted at your home too: it collects much less data, but can help identify OSA.