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How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

When is snoring more serious than just keeping your partner awake at night? Why is it a constant struggle to stay awake during the day? And what’s with those morning headaches? If any of these questions sound familiar, it’s time to consider that you might have sleep apnea. As with most health problems, receiving a proper diagnosis is the first step toward feeling better. But how is sleep apnea diagnosed, exactly? Here’s everything you need to know.

Before Your Appointment

If you have a primary care physician, this is usually the best place to start. They can evaluate your symptoms and then refer you to a sleep specialist. Start by scheduling an appointment to discuss the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea you’ve been experiencing, and plan to show up as prepared as possible. In the days or weeks leading up to your appointment, keep a diary of your symptoms and any information relevant to your sleeping habits. This should include: 

  • How many hours of sleep you’re getting

  • How many times you wake up during the night

  • How often you take naps

  • How rested you feel when you wake up in the morning

  • How tired you feel throughout the day 

With your symptom diary in hand, your actual appointment will go much more smoothly.

At Your Appointment

When you arrive at your appointment, your doctor will likely ask you questions about your medical history, risk factors for sleep apnea and signs and symptoms of sleep apnea you’ve noticed. (See? We told you the symptom diary would come in handy!) This initial discussion is typically followed by a brief physical exam, during which your doctor will check your mouth, nose and throat. It’s all pretty simple and painless. At this point, your primary care physician will determine if you need to see a sleep specialist.

Sleep Study

A sleep study is the most accurate way to diagnosis sleep apnea and pinpoint the severity of the disorder, so don’t be surprised if your sleep specialist orders one. It’s completely painless and non-invasive, though potentially a little weird if you aren’t used to falling asleep with various sensors attached to your body. It’s only for one night though, so it’s worth the slight discomfort to finally get some answers.Sleep studies are conducted either at home (with a home sleep test) or in a sleep lab. Your sleep specialist will monitor the information collected by the sensors to assess your breathing, pulse, heart rate, brain activity, blood pressure and other factors. From there, they will be able to determine—once and for all—if you have sleep apnea.

How to Treat Sleep Apnea

If you receive a sleep apnea diagnosis, it’s not the end of the world! While it’s true that untreated sleep apnea can pose a series of health risks, it’s surprisingly easy to manage your sleep apnea. Your sleep specialist will discuss treatment methods with you, and get you started as soon as possible.Nobody likes getting diagnosed with an incurable health problem, but just think of it this way: sleep apnea will be there whether you’ve received a diagnosis or not. It’s better to know you have it so that you can establish a treatment plan and alleviate those annoying symptoms.