Has anyone ever told you that you snore?  Do you wake up and often feel like you haven’t even slept? Do you find yourself dozing off at inappropriate or inconvenient times?  If any of these sounds like you, you might be one of the millions of Americans with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), more than 18 million of us have this disorder but an estimated 93% of women and 82% of men with the disorder have never been diagnosed.

For many of these people, the connection between being tired during the day and something that is happening while they are asleep is never made.  It often takes a partner, bedmate, or roommate to notice that the person has stopped breathing before the connection is made.  Unfortunately, without diagnosis, there is no treatment and untreated sleep apnea can have serious long term health consequences.  People with this sleep disorder may develop high blood pressure, cardiac problems, stroke, depression, and even death.

The most effective and most commonly used method for diagnosing sleep apnea is a sleep study which requires the person suspected of having the disorder to spend the night in a sleep center.  While this method is very effective, it is also expensive which means it is inaccessible to some people while others may experience challenges in getting approval for the testing from their insurance company.  However, there is a new FDA approved test that allows people suspected of having sleep apnea to be tested for the disorder at home.  This new home test, which is significantly less expensive than a full sleep study, removes much of the anxiety some people experience about spending the night at a sleep center.

The test is easy to take.  Patients meet with a sleep physician at the sleep center for their consultation and then take the device used to administer the test at home.   At night, the patient sleeps with the device on their head and the data necessary to determine whether or not they have sleep apnea is recorded by the device.   Once complete, the patient returns the test device to the sleep center where the data can be extracted, read, and a diagnosis can be made, if necessary.  By capturing the patient’s heart rate, airflow, respiratory effort, and the amount of oxygen in their blood, the home testing device makes it possible for a sleep physician to provide a diagnosis as accurately as if it came from a full study.

If you find yourself nodding off during the day, suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness, or having trouble concentrating, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about your risk of having sleep apnea.  If you have any of these symptoms and a body mass index (BMI) over 30, a neck larger than 18 inches around, or high blood pressure, you may be a great candidate for taking a home sleep test.   You can assess your sleep apnea risk using this assessment or talk to your regular doctor about your symptoms.  The at home test, just like a full sleep study, must be ordered by a physician.  The cost of this test is generally covered by the majority of health insurance plans including Medicare.   It is important to note however, that unlike a full sleep study, the home test can only be used to diagnose sleep apnea.  If your doctor believes you may be suffering from a different sleep disorder, a full sleep study is still the best route to the right diagnosis.

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