April 01, 2017

Is there a simple way to diagnose sleep apnea?

Q: Based on his snoring, I think my husband may have sleep apnea. However, he doesn't want to get tested because he doesn't want to spend a night hooked up to a bunch of equipment. Is there an easier way to know?

There are simpler ways to initially rule out sleep apnea. However, this may not negate the need for eventually having a sleep study to make a definitive diagnosis.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition in which tissues in your throat temporarily block your airway while you sleep. You may unknowingly stop breathing for several brief periods throughout the night, causing disruption in your sleep cycle. Not surprisingly, this can lead to daytime sleepiness and fatigue that can be severe enough to cause embarrassment — or even car accidents. Obstructive sleep apnea can also lead to other problems such as heart disease or reflux.

An evaluation by your doctor is a fairly quick and easy way to assess for obstructive sleep apnea. Your doctor may simply ask a few questions, such as if you're tired during the day or if you have morning headaches. You may be asked if you or a partner has noticed loud snoring with intermittent pauses of breathing during sleep and gasping or choking noises.

Obesity and a large neck circumference — greater than 17 inches in men or 16 inches in women — also are hallmark risks of obstructive sleep apnea. Your doctor can take a quick look at your airway to see if throat tissues are crowding the area. If you have three or more of the factors mentioned above — or other telltale signs — you're at high probability of having obstructive sleep apnea. A sleep study is the next step for a definitive diagnosis.