DENVER — Doctors estimate that 18 million Americans have moderate to severe apnea, and 75 percent of them do not know it.
The condition not only makes you tired, it can also raise your blood pressure, cause your heart to beat irregularly and increase your risk of heart attacks and stroke. And if you’re apt to doze at the wheel after a rough night’s sleep, it could even lead to your untimely demise.
So how can you find out if you have sleep apnea? In addition to sleep center tests, which require overnight stays, at-home tests are growing in popularity. And not only are the home test up to $4,700 cheaper, some doctors believe they may be more effective.
NovaSom is one company that produces a home sleep apnea test. The company was founded by Dr. Michael Coppola, a former president of the American Sleep Apnea Association, and its $300 home test was reviewed by the New York Times.
Coppola said before starting the company, his team put together an estimate that suggested roughly $4.3 billion dollars is spent on sleep center testing each year
According to ClearHealthCosts.com, sleep center tests cost anywhere from $600 to $5,000 depending on your health insurance coverage. Home tests typically cost $300 or less.
Over the last 10 years, Dr. M. Safwan Badr, a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told the Times that preferences have swung sharply in the direction of the home test — not only for patients, but for insurers. And it’s not just because of the cost.
Take the case of the Times’ Donald McNeil. When he took a test at a sleep center, he had been diagnosed with sleep apnea. When he took the home test, he wasn’t even close to that receiving the same diagnosis.
To be fair, McNeil said he lost 35 pounds between tests, and considering being overweight is one potential cause of sleep apnea, that could have contributed to the change in diagnosis.
However, due to the drastic change in test results, Coppola suggested the test may be to blame.
In his sleep center test, McNeil was diagnosed as having mild sleep apnea, which means he stopped or nearly stopped breathing for at least 10 seconds on five to 15 occasions per night. However, McNeil’s home test found that over the course of three nights, he stopped or nearly stopped breathing an average of 1.5 times a night.
Hearkening back to his sleep center test, McNeil recalled something that Coppola said hinders many sleep center tests: a slew of wires, probes and machines kept McNeil from sleeping the way he normally would.
In McNeil’s case, it forced him to sleep on his back, blocking an already narrow airway.
That said, the same things that offer a benefit the the home sleep apnea tests also come with drawbacks. Because of the lesser amount of tests and machinery, home tests don’t provide test subjects with as much data. For instance, since most home tests don’t measure brainwaves, the test can be fooled by someone who lies awake, staring at the ceiling all night.
Still, most doctors say home tests are useful for people who exhibit the warning signs of sleep apnea, such as waking up exhausted after a full night’s sleep or dozing off at the wheel during the day.
Those diagnosed with sleep apnea are typically advised to lose weight, drink less alcohol or caffeine and go to bed earlier. Additional treatment options include airway surgery or could sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that pumps air into the user’s lungs.