Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the patient stops breathing for short periods of time while they are asleep. The condition is under diagnosed because the patient is often unaware that they have the condition. Often it is a partner that makes the initial diagnosis after they become concerned about excessive snoring and the obvious sound of the patient struggling to breathe. Misdiagnosis is another problem as the symptoms are the ones caused by a lack of sleep such as fatigue, falling asleep during the day and concentration problems. Symptoms that could indicate any of a myriad of different issues.
If sleep apnea is suspected the patient will usually undergo a sleep test. This is done over one or two nights at a facility specifically designed to diagnose sleep problems. The test has two parts the first of which is the diagnostic part. This is used to see if sleep apnea is the problem and, if it is, to get a baseline reading. Among other things the test will measure how many times the patient stops breathing and the oxygen content of the blood. If the diagnosis is positive for sleep apnea the patient will be fitted up with something called a continuous positive airway pressure, better known as CPAP, machine. This machine blows air into the patients nose or nose and mouth which forces the airway to stay open. The purpose of this part of the sleep test is to determine the minimum amount of pressure required to bring the apnea events down to an acceptable level. The patient will be prescribed one of these machines with a setting determined by the sleep test and given some lifestyle recommendations.
The above describes the process for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which is the most common type of sleep apnea.