Testing for sleep apnea—without spending a night in the hospital

A few years ago, the only way to be tested for sleep apnea was via a referral from a family doctor to a sleep specialist.  The sleep specialist would then offer a test that involves spending the night in a hospital sleep lab.  Once there, the patient was attached to 15 or more wires and contraptions to monitor sleep, pulse, breathing and the presence of snoring.  This was an excellent way to diagnose sleep apnea but often involved significant waiting periods.

Today, sleep clinics such as Coastal Sleep can offer an in-home test without the wait time and with less cumbersome testing devices.

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"We provide a small monitor that you use at home," says Paul Sweeney, President of Coastal Sleep. "You wear a small nasal device that measures your airflow and a band on your chest to measure the movements. The third device is a pulse oximeter that measures your heart rate and oxygen level. That’s it."

Should breathing stop during the night, says Paul, the monitor senses that the chest is moving, but there's no airflow in the nose.

"That would indicate an obstruction in the airway," he explains. "The data we get from the monitor tells us how many apnea events are happening per hour. We can then usually determine if there's a mild, moderate, or severe case of sleep apnea at that point."

The procedure is similar to the hospital sleep test and, while not quite as accurate, provides a very good screening tool.

"If there are other medical issues or if the test results are inconclusive, we'll usually recommend that patients be referred to a sleep specialist for further testing."

According to Paul, approximately 75 percent of the population suffers from sleep apnea without even being aware.

"It's very prevalent,” he says. “People with diabetes or heart issues have up to a 50 percent chance of suffering from sleep apnea and if you have drug resistant hypertension, there's an 83 percent of having sleep apnea. At Coastal Sleep we also see people with pacemakers, congestive heart failure, and addiction to narcotics. These conditions are a good reason to be tested, at least to rule out the possibility of sleep apnea."

Another demographic that can suffer from sleep apnea is the menopausal or post-menopausal woman.

"This particular group of women are often undiagnosed," says Marielle Dickson, a Registered Respiratory Therapist at Coastal Sleep. "They often have vague symptoms: they're not heavy snorers, and while they may present with weight gain, they have little to no change in activity levels. They may have mild depression or anxiety and are often feeling tired all the time."

As a preferred vendor of both the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Fraser Valley Health, Coastal Sleep offers diagnostic testing free of charge.

For more information about the testing and treatment of sleep apnea in the Richmond area call Coastal Sleep at 1.877.241.9066, visit their website, or send them an email. There is a Coastal Sleep facility in Richmond located at 130-7360 Westminster Highway. Coastal Sleep can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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