Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Diagnosis

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea vary from person to person. The most common are:

  • Snoring: Most people with sleep apnea snore, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Snoring can come and go throughout the night and is loud enough to disturb others sleeping nearby.
  • Daytime sleepiness: If you aren’t getting high-quality sleep at night, you may doze off at work or even fall asleep behind the wheel.
  • Pauses in breathing: People with sleep apnea wake up suddenly with jerking body movements after these breathing pauses, often gasping and choking. If you share a bed with someone, they may notice these noises and movements.
  • Difficulties with memory and concentration
  • Unusual moodiness or irritability
  • Frequently waking up to urinate at night
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth

How Obstructive Sleep Apnea Is Diagnosed

If you or a loved one suspect that you may have sleep apnea, your doctor will want to know about your sleep and health habits. They will ask about how much sleep you get, how long it takes to fall asleep and whether you sleepwalk or talk while asleep. Your medications will be reviewed for their effects on sleep. They may also ask about your family history, because sleep apnea runs in families. During a physical examination, they will look for anything making your upper airway narrower, such as enlarged tonsils or a pulled back jaw.  

If your doctor thinks sleep apnea is likely, you may need a sleep study at home or at a sleep center. A sleep study monitors and records your breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels overnight. Regardless of if it is completed at home or in a sleep lab, this non-invasive test will use sensors attached to your head and body connected by long wires to a computer. The results, which may include measuring heart, lung, brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements and oxygen levels while asleep will help your doctor make a diagnosis of sleep apnea. A sleep study completed in a sleep center will provide your doctor with more information than can be collected while using a portable sleep apnea test at home.

When to See Your Doctor About Sleep Apnea

If you or your loved one have snoring that disrupts your sleep, pauses in breathing during the night or have a hard time staying awake during the day you should talk to your healthcare provider. In addition, if you are having a hard time controlling your asthma, blood pressure or blood sugar, you might be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: March 9, 2020

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