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Assessing sleep apnea at home

January 12, 2016
Sleep apnea

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 insulin resistance.

“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