What Is a Sleep Apnea Screening?

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  • Written By: Natalie M. Smith
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2018
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A sleep apnea screening is a diagnostic process to determine if a patient has sleep apnea. It might begin with a doctor-patient discussion or questionnaire. If this information is not sufficient, the patient might undergo evaluation at a sleep clinic, where he or she is monitored using special sleep apnea screening equipment. Some patients perform this monitoring at home using portable devices.

Patients who complain of sleep apnea symptoms, such as loud snoring and waking up often, are typically asked to discuss their symptoms and answer a series of questions by their doctors. For instance, doctors might ask how long the symptoms have been occurring and whether or not they improve under certain conditions. Doctors will also consider whether patients have risk factors associated with sleep apnea, which include high blood pressure and being overweight. An evaluation can sometimes be made based on symptoms and risk factors alone, or doctors might recommended that patients complete a comprehensive sleep apnea screening at a sleep clinic.


At sleep clinics, patients often undergo a polysomnogram, or sleep study. Electrodes are attached to a patient's skin, special devices are wrapped around the patient's midsection, and another device is attached to a finger. Sleep clinic specialists use this equipment to continuously monitor specific information while the patient is asleep, namely, the patient's blood-oxygen levels, breathing, organ activity, and physical movements. Other equipment might also be used, such as a nasal airflow sensor or microphone to record snoring. Despite all the diagnostic tools employed, patients typically report feeling no pain and are able to fall asleep with little trouble during a sleep study.

Doctors might also suggest that some patients complete a sleep apnea screening at home. These patients use portable devices that measure their blood oxygen level, heart rate, and breathing during sleep. At-home monitoring is less comprehensive than sleep clinic monitoring, so doctors might still schedule a polysomnogram for some patients who use this method. If at-home screening reveals abnormal results, however, it might be enough for doctors to make an evaluation.

Sleep apnea is characterized by breathing that suddenly starts and stops while a patient is asleep. It is a serious sleeping disorder that is potentially fatal in patients with other medical issues. As such, sleep apnea testing and treatment is critical for those with the condition. Doctors recommend that any patient who experiences sleep apnea symptoms seek professional advice to determine if a sleep apnea screening, or other diagnostic evaluations, is necessary.



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