Assessing sleep apnea at home
January 12, 2016
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that affects as many as 12
million Americans, but the condition often remains undiagnosed.
Traditionally, testing for the disorder, in which people have pauses
or shallow breathing during sleep, required at least one overnight
stay in a sleep disorders laboratory. However UCI Health
specialists are now using a new take-home test to evaluate select patients for sleep apnea.
The device, called WatchPAT™, is worn on the patient’s wrist and, via sensors, monitors
peripheral arterial tone, oxygen levels in the blood, movement and body position, heart
rate and snoring.
“It’s convenient because it allows patients to sleep in a comfortable environment, which
is believed to produce more reliable results,” says Dr. Paul Schalch Lepe, a UCI Health
otolaryngologist. “In the sleep lab, you’re in an unfamiliar environment and new routine,
and the quality of the data won’t be as reliable. The WatchPAT gives us enough information
to reach a diagnosis.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has issued guidelines for which patients are
appropriate candidates for at-home testing. These patients have a high likelihood of having
sleep apnea based on physical examination, daytime sleepiness, snoring and sleep apnea
spells witnessed by another person, such as a spouse. The patient cannot have other major
health problems because the WatchPAT doesn’t rule out complex heart arrhythmias or
sleep disorders that are neurological, such as seizures, complex movement disorders or
behavioral sleep disorders such as sleepwalking.
However, 40 to 60 percent of patients are likely candidates for at-home testing, Schalch
Lepe says. It’s important to recognize and treat sleep apnea.
“Patients say, ‘So what? I’m snoring or sleepy.’ But sleep apnea is one of the risk factors
for a number of conditions, such as stroke,” he says. Sleep apnea raises the risk of cardiac
events, arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, hypertension, congestive heart failure and
“Identifying sleep apnea is the first step, and there are treatment options, such as
continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, surgical interventions, oral appliances;
there are multiple things that can be done,” Schalch Lepe says. “But it all starts with
getting the patient diagnosed. And for the appropriate candidates, we can now expedite
that by having them undergo sleep apnea testing at home.”
For more information, visit ucirvinehealth.org/ent.
— UCI Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UCI Health Live Well Magazine Winter 2016