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Sleep Apnea Overview

Symptoms & Diagnosis: Obstructive Sleep Apnea


There are many signs and symptoms that patients with OSA may exhibit. The list below describes many of the symptoms that are common amongst patients with OSA. For more information on the individual symptoms, please visit one of the websites listed on the left-hand side of the page.

  • Loud Snoring
  • Cessation of breathing or choking spells in the night
  • Morning headaches
  • Frequent bathroom visits
  • Severe mood swings
  • Obesity
  • Low sex drive
  • Lack of energy
  • Dry mouth and sore throat in the morning
  • Lack of concentration and forgetfulness


There are several methods that are currently in use by physicians for diagnosing patients with OSA. Typically, the patient's primary care doctor will evaluate any symptoms that could be related to OSA. Using this information, the doctor will then determine whether or not it's necessary for the patient to see a sleep specialist. These doctors specialize in diagnosing patients suffering from sleep disorders and will be responsible for the treating the patient. The sections below give a brief description on the various techniques used to diagnose patients suffering from OSA.


A polysomnogram, or PSG, is the most commonly used method for diagnosing patients with OSA. A PSG is painless and simply requires the patient to go to sleep as they normally would, except sensors will be placed on the finger, limbs, chest, face, and scalp. These sensors will record brain activity, eye movement, muscle activity, breathing rate, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and the amount of air that is being inhaled and exhaled. Using the results from the PSG, a sleep specialist will then be able to determine whether or not the patient has sleep apnea, and if so, the degree of severity. Using this information a sleep specialist can then make a plan for the patient's treatment.

Physical Exam

Physical exams are sometimes used to diagnose sleep apnea by looking for tell tale signs that sleep apnea patients typically share. In essence, the doctor will inspect the  mouth, nose, and throat for extra and large tissues. This oftentimes will indicate the tissue may be obstructing airflow while the patient is asleep. In children, this can manifest in the form of enlarged tonsils. In adults, this can manifest in the form of an enlarged uvula (the tissue that hangs from the middle of the back of the throat) or soft palate (the back part of the roof of the mouth).

Medical and Family Histories

When checking a medical and family history, the doctor will generally ask questions about how one sleeps and functions during the day. They will also want to know how loudly and often snoring or  some form of gasping or choking sound occurs during sleep. In addition the doctor will check whether anyone in the  family has ever been diagnosed with OSA, or whether they exhibit any of the same  symptoms. This is important as a patient's chance of developing OSA is much higher if a member of their family has also been diagnosed with OSA.

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