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Sleep Apnea - Getting A Diagnosis

Updated on December 9, 2020
Pamela99 profile image

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.


What is Sleep Apnea?

One of the most common sleep disorders is sleep apnea, but what is sleep apnea? It is a chronic condition where an individual has pauses in their breathing or has an abnormally low breathing rate during sleep. The pauses are called apnea and can last from a few seconds to several minutes. They can occur 5-30 times or more times per hour. When normal breathing restarts again, there will sometimes be a loud snort or choking sound.

African Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders more commonly develop this condition than Caucasians. A family history is another important risk factor.

What Happens When Breathing Stops?

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that disrupts your sleep. Of course, the result of sleep apnea is poor quality sleep, which means you will be tired during the day, and it is the leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. It really isn’t a condition that can be diagnosed in a routine doctor. If a doctor suspects you have sleep apnea, he will order a sleep test.

There is more than one type of sleep apnea with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) being the most common. This means the airway is blocked or collapsed in some fashion during sleep, which may cause very shallow breathing or pauses in your breathing.

Since your body is trying to breathe in any air that squeezes by, loud snoring may be a result. When you stop breathing and your blood oxygen level gets too low, then stress hormones kick in. They raise your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time they can increase your risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea - Mayo Clinic

Sleep Apnea Types

Obstructive sleep apnea is more common for people who smoke, drink alcohol or who are overweight, but it can happen to anyone. It most commonly happens to men between the ages of 30 and 50. However, it can happen to a small child with large tonsils and adenoids, or if the child is very obese. Roughly 4-9% of sleep apnea sufferers are middle-aged men, 2-4% are middle aged women, and 80-90% are never diagnosed. One half of people with obstructive sleep apnea are obese. Other reasons for sleep apnea are an individual who has a larger tongue and tonsils. In contrast, a small framed person will also have a smaller mouth and throat, causing sleep apnea symptoms.

Central sleep is controlled breathing that sends the correct nerve signals to your breathing muscles. In this case the body makes no effort to breathe. This type of apnea can happen to anyone, but it is usually associated with individuals over age 65. Approximately 10% of sleep apnea sufferers have this type..

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Symptoms of both types of sleep apnea:

  • Restless sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Headache in the morning
  • Loud snoring
  • Change in personality
  • Frequent urination during the night

Sleep apnea is diagnosed by a test called polynomnography which is a diagnosed

Mandibular Splint
Mandibular Splint | Source

Components of Sleep Testing

During a test for sleep apnea physiologic sensors leads are placed on the patient to record several items, which include:

  • Brain electrical activity
  • Eye and jaw muscle movement
  • Leg muscle movement
  • Airflow
  • Respiratory effort (chest and abdominal excursion)
  • EKG
  • Oxygen saturation

All the information is placed in a computer which puts out a series of waveform tracings which tell the technician to visualize the various waveforms, assign a score for the test which will assist in the diagnostic process.

Physiologic Variables measured and recorded (as done per the KUMC Sleep Disorders Center protocols). Electrical activity of the brain is recorded which tells the technician what stage of sleep the patient is in during any given period of the night.

Sleep Apnea and CPAP

Risks of Sleep Apnea

Untreated sleep apnea is dangerous, and it can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and worsen heart failure. Irregular heart beats are more likely, and the chance of having work related or car accidents is increased,

Sleep apnea is treated by lifestyle changes and/or sleep appliances. For overweight patients even a loss of 5% weight loss can help, and patients should avoid drinking alcohol in the evening. Oxygen is used with patients that have central sleep apnea, as is no medication or cure available to treat sleep apnea.

Cpap Treatment or Surgery

Cpap sleep apnea is the most common treatment, which is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) appliance. It is a nose mask that blows air by applying pressure from an air blower that forces air through the nasal passage airway worn during sleep to prevent airway collapse. The air pressure is applied continuously, so there is just enough pressure to prevent collapse of the airway. This is generally effective, but many patients dislike wearing the mask.

Some of the side effects that may occur are nasal irritation and drying or the mucsoa, facial skin irritation, abdominal bloating, mask leaks, sore eyes, and headaches. There are some dental appliances, which are sometimes helpful to reposition the lower jaw and tongue.

There are some types of surgery that are tried in some cases which might involve removal of tonsils, adenoids or part of the uvula. Sometimes there are repairs of bone or tissue but there are risks and sometimes it takes more than one surgical procedure.


In Conclusion

I hope this article has answered your questions about sleep apnea. It is a serious, chronic disease, and it is important to get diagnosed, to know what the symptoms are and what type of treatment is available. Considering the number of people who are undiagnosed, it is important to pay attention to the people in your life so if you do notice the listed symptoms you can get some medical attention to treat the problem.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Submit a Comment
  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    7 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Audrey,

    My borher-in-law has to wear one of these masks at night also and he has similar complaints. I am sorry to hear you have that problem.

    We have to do things we don't like in life as I am in a wheelchair now but hope I will be able to walk again. Aging sure an be difficult. I am always glad to hear from you and I appreciate you sharing your personal experience. I wish you all the best, Audrey, and I appreciate your comments, as always.

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 

    7 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

    I've had sleep apnea for years. I wear my cpap mask along with oxygen each night. My chief complaint is terrible dryness in my mouth and nose in spite of the humidifier being on the highest level. I'm not overweight but I'm small which contributes to sleep apnea as you've mentioned.

    Thanks for writing about this devastating problem. I don't like wearing the cpap but I do...otherwise I would sleep all day.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    7 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Majidsiko, Thanks for your comments.

  • Majidsiko profile image


    7 years ago from Kenya

    Hence the previous term Pickwickian syndrome. Keep up the good work. The best method of treating the sleep apnea is weight loss, but hypertension usually persists even after the apnea is reversed.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    7 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Majidsiko. I had not thought of that. Thanks for your comments.

  • Majidsiko profile image


    7 years ago from Kenya

    Pickwick from Charles Dickens' stories most likely had this disorder.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    ncuxapa, I didn't read much about the erection problem in my research but thanks for adding the information. I appreciate your comments.

  • ncuxapa_ profile image


    10 years ago

    Very good article but I would add the erection problems as a symptom of the sleep apnea. Many of the patients do not want to admit them but when you ask them they will tell you. Nice job

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Support Med, I know weight gain can be a factor and also sinus problems. Thanks for your comments.

  • Support Med. profile image

    Support Med. 

    10 years ago from Michigan

    Very much needed information!!! Although I'm aware that some people have this at an early age and yet question if the aging process has anything to do with it. I know people who all of a sudden started snoring when they did not do so when younger. Just wondering. I'll keep this on my reference list. Voted/rated.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Habee, I would guess that if you need one, it would rank high on the priority list. Thanks for the comment.

  • habee profile image

    Holle Abee 

    10 years ago from Georgia

    I think I'd kill over my C-pap!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Ben, Somehow I think the lifestyle changes would help more than Hubpages as that seems to keep me sitting in a chair for hours sometimes. I'm glad you father is doing better. Thanks for your comment.

  • Ben Zoltak profile image

    Ben Zoltak 

    10 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

    Hey Pam great hub article.

    My Pop wears the mask and he says it helps a lot. I feel like I probably have some apnea but have so far escaped the mask. Also my "lifestyle changes" of the last year seem to have helped some. Maybe it's my first year at that has helped!!!



  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Martie, 51 is certainly too young to die. I am sorry to hear that. Thank you for sharing and your comments.

  • MartieCoetser profile image

    Martie Coetser 

    10 years ago from South Africa

    A friend of mine died of this at the age of 51. Excellent article! I’ve voted it thoroughly up.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Prasetio. Thank you so much for the praise and your comments. I think You write many informative articles also that are excellent.

  • prasetio30 profile image


    10 years ago from malang-indonesia

    I know it looks horrible when this happen to us. Sleeping disorder make us uncomfortable and very annoy us because sleep is like a daily need. To make us fresh again after work in all day long. Again, I learn much from you. Pamela, you still my favorite hubber. Thank you very much. Vote up.


  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    DjBryle, I am glad you found this hub helpful and thank you for your comments.

  • DjBryle profile image


    10 years ago from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =)

    Thanks for sharing this very informative and thoroughly researched hub. This is really useful. Two thumbs up! =)

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    bayoulady, It sounds like you have been through it all. thanks for your comments.

    K9keystrokes, Thank you for your comments and I will always appreciate you sharing any one of my hubs.

  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    Soper hub Pam. This is a very seriouse subject and one I am glad you took on. Your presentation of clear information is outstanding. Another well done hub. Up and awesome, I hope you don't mind, but I am going to share this with my friends on facebook. ;}


  • bayoulady profile image


    10 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

    Great hub. You beat me to it!(whine...)I have moderate/severe sleep apnea OSA. For years I felt sleepy ,exhausted, and sometimes had the foggy brain that your hear apnea patients so often experience.I go nowhere without without my comfort full #2 mask and machine.(Full mask covers nose and mouth) To the person that remarked that it may seem claustrophobic, you do get used to it.Once in a while my mask and I fight all night long, though!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    I just returned this afternoon from a weeks vacation so I see I need to answer these wonderful comments.

    Quill, I am glad you testing negative and hope your remain that way. Thanks for your comment.

    Joe, I think your wife will pick up the symptoms if you have sleep apnea and you may need testing. I hope things turn out well for you and your wife. Thank you for your comments.

    JY, Thank goodness you were diagnosed and have the treatment. I appreciate your comments.

    bandrock, I appreciate your comments and hope the hub does help someone.

    Hello, I am glad you learned about this as it is fairly common and I appreciate your comments.

    Cari, It may be something to check into and I appreciate your comments.

    Ehern, It is good to be aware of the symptoms. It seems some tolerate the mask better than others. Thanks for your comment.

    Rev Lady, It is certainly worth checking out just in case. Thank you for your comments. God Bless.

    Dallas, I appreciate your comment

    Mentalist Acer, I'll bet she feels a hundred percent better with the mask. Thanks for the comment.

    Audry, I didn't know that so many people went undiagnosed before I did this research. Thanks for your comments.

    Eovery, I thought there were several types so at least you have an option to find the one that works best for you. Thanks for your comments.

  • eovery profile image


    10 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

    There are several sleep apnea devices that you can buy relatively cheap online that help out.

    Keep on hubbing!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    10 years ago from Washington

    Good info for an alarmingly high incidence problem - so many people have it and don't pay attention to the symptoms. It can help you avoid heart damage as well if you treat it!

  • Mentalist acer profile image

    Mentalist acer 

    10 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

    Mom has apnea and finds the mask indeed a necessecity;)

  • dallas93444 profile image

    Dallas W Thompson 

    10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

    Thanks for sharing. Many are benefiting from your information...

  • RevLady profile image


    10 years ago from Lantana, Florida

    A very interesting hub. I suffer with some of the symptoms so I think I will be checked for it at my next doctor's visit. Thanks for the information.

    Forever His,

  • ehern33 profile image


    10 years ago

    Pamela, I have thought that I may have it as I have gasped for air a few times, but usually just before I fall asleep. I rarely snore though (or so I have been told). My son-in-law wears the mask and a few hours is all he can take, as he janks it off during the night. Great hub.

  • Cari Jean profile image

    Cari Jean 

    10 years ago from Bismarck, ND

    Hmmmm, now you have me thinking. My daughter has never really slept well and I've always attributed it to her high tone with her CP - but she does have large tonils - am wondering if that could be a factor? Thanks for this info.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 

    10 years ago from London, UK

    I never knew anything about it. Thank you for all the hard work you put in.

  • brandrocker profile image


    10 years ago

    Thank you. Spreading the awareness will definitely help people to quickly diagnosis of Sleep Apnea.

  • JY3502 profile image

    John Young 

    10 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

    I also suffer from this. My CPAP machine was a gift from heaven. Good article. voted up

  • profile image


    10 years ago

    Good job Pamela, My wife thinks I have sleep apnea. Must get her to read this article this afternoon. Wishing you and your husband the very best of health and happiness.


  • profile image


    10 years ago

    Thanks for the hub on an interesting subject. I was once tested and it was considered borderline. I understand that it certainly helps many.

    Blessings and Hugs

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Chris, Thanks for your comments.

  • carolina muscle profile image

    carolina muscle 

    10 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    absolutely right.. it's a biggie with weight lifters, and anyone with a large diameter throat..

    it's gotta be treated!!!

    kudos !!!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    KristenGrace, Thanks so much for your comments.

    Sage, I very much appreciate your comments as always.

  • Sage Williams profile image

    Sage Williams 

    10 years ago

    pamela - extremely informative and well written hub. I am definitely book marking this one for future reference. Voted up.


  • KristenGrace profile image


    10 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

    Wow - what a great and informative hub! My grandfather has sleep apnea, and it was so helpful to read more on it.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    expand Your Mind, Thanks so much for your comments.

    Patriot, For safety reasons it might be best to at least get checked out and then try the mask or maybe there would be something else to help you. I appreciate your comments.

    Fitnwezz Jum, I didn't find that in this research but I do discuss it in my other hub on insomnia as it is a sleeping disorder. The link is on this page. Thanks for your comment.

    Diamond, I think for men it is more of a problem also because they carry their extra weight quite often in the belly area where women carry it all over their bodies more so. In the research they did say even a weight loss of 5 #'s can make a difference. Thanks for your comments.

  • DiamondRN profile image

    Bob Diamond RPh 

    10 years ago from Charlotte, NC USA

    Good article. It has been my experience that being grossly overweight is one of the most critical contributing factors for this disorder, Pamela.

  • FitnezzJim profile image


    10 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

    Nice Hub Pam. In your research of this condition, did you note any discussions of sleep apnea causing short-term daytime sleep periods that went unrecognized by the patient (sleep-walking)?

  • profile image

    partisan patriot 

    10 years ago


    I have met the enemy and it is me; I've long thought my problems with daytime drowsiness was sleep apnea; I've even gotten afraid of driving long distances by myself. However, having said all that being claustrophobic I'm not sure I could wear one of those masks!

  • ExpandYourMind profile image


    10 years ago from Midwest USA

    Good info to pass on, Pamela. Well written and illustrated. I've been tested for this disorder.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    10 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Hmrjmr, Thanks for sharing that information and maybe some people will get tested. One of my sons is a heavy snorer and he is losing weight which hopefully will help but I've wondered if he shouldn't be tested.

  • Hmrjmr1 profile image


    10 years ago from Georgia, USA

    Pam - A great hub, as an apnea sufferer, my CPAP machine is life. If you are a heavy snorer you should be tested.

  • Tom Whitworth profile image

    Tom Whitworth 

    10 years ago from Moundsville, WV


    Thank you for another well researched and well presented Hub.


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