Misdiagnosing Sleep Apnea: Tips to Avoid Misidentifying the Disorder

Many different kinds of sleep disorders are diagnosed incorrectly in patients every year. People who suffer from a misdiagnosis of their sleep disorder continue to suffer from the symptoms and causes of the disorder. Even though the patient is being treated for symptoms that may apply to a different medical issue, the underlying problem, SA, is not being managed.

Consequently, the real causes of sleeping trouble for people with sleeping disorders often go untreated. The misdiagnosis of sleeping disorders can cause the condition to worsen; increasing major health concerns will follow.

Why is Sleep Apnea So Commonly Misdiagnosed?

Sleep Apnea is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed sleep disorders. The symptoms of apnea are often attributed to other health issues. In congruence, many other serious health problems are often incorrectly diagnosed as Sleep Apnea Syndrome.

  • Many Sleep Apnea Sufferers are Undiagnosed: Most of the people who suffer from Sleep Apnea are completely clueless of it. Because so many apnea victims are undiagnosed, medical professionals often do not include the disorder in their list of immediate diagnosis.
  • Apnea Can be Difficult to Identify: A lot of the more obvious symptoms of Sleep Apnea are not easily identifiable to victims that experience apneas during the night. It is difficult, and often impossible, to analyze the quality of your own sleeping patterns. Many people who snore because of airway obstruction are not aware of their habit until someone else hears the snoring and informs the sleeper. It is even harder to notice when someone stops breathing during sleep, especially if you are the apnea victim. Constant awakenings during the night are often overlooked or contributed to other medical issues.
  • Apnea Symptoms Are Often Glanced Over: The incorrect identification of Sleep Apnea is often a direct result of the victims failure to acknowledge the existence of personal problems as possible results of Sleep Apnea.
    • Mood: Sleep Apnea causes sleep deprivation. Mood swings and distinctive changes in personality are a direct result of poor sleep quality. People who suffer from apnea often show signs of irritability, lack of enthusiasm, and low energy. Because mood and attitude are so easily affected by other problems, Sleep Apnea patients have a tendency to miss the serious health problems that can cause emotional distress.
    • Snoring: Because so many people snore while they sleep, it is viewed as a common occurrence. Snoring can mean serious problems in the airway; there is an obstruction of the airway if audible vibrations are occurring during sleep. So many people snore, however, that snoring is hardly seen as anything more than an annoyance to others.
    • Fatigue: Fatigue is easily caused by Sleep Apnea, but like snoring, it is such a common problem that it is not always viewed as a serious health risk. Many people view fatigue as a result of poor sleep the night before, but that is where the identification process stops. Few patients automatically link fatigue and energy loss to respiratory function interruption.

What Other Problems Can Sleep Apnea Be Mistaken For?

Sleep Apnea is commonly misdiagnosed as one of the following medical issues because they share common symptoms with SA:

  • Hypothyroidism/Hyperthyroidism: Hypothyroidism is caused by an under-active thyroid gland; Hyperthyroidism is caused by an over-active thyroid gland. In either case, the thyroid gland is not producing the right level of the thyroid hormone, and thyroid production is vital to the body’s ability to regulate metabolism and calcium levels. Thyroid problems often occur when the gland is damaged by inflammation.
    • Mimicking symptoms: Changes in weight, lowered levels of energy or extreme fatigue, and moodiness
  • Heartburn or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: GERD, most commonly referred to as Heartburn, is a common medical condition. It is characterized by the leaking of stomach contents, such as foods or liquids, from the stomach. The contents leak backwards out of the stomach and into the esophagus. The lower sphincter muscles of the esophagus are meant to prevent the escaping of stomach contents, but these muscular fibers do not function correctly in GERD patients. GERD victims generally experience some degree of damage on their esophagus.
    • Mimicking symptoms: Sleep interruption, discomfort or pain in the throat and respiratory muscles, difficulty swallowing correctly, and changes in the voice
  • Asthma: Asthma is a medical disorder in which the airways become inflamed. During an asthma attack, the muscles that surround the airways of the body become tighter than normal and there is swelling in the lining of the respiratory passages. Asthma reduces the size of the airway and congruently reduces the amount of air that can pass through the airways.
    • Mimicking symptoms: Coughing or gasping for air upon wakening, shortness of breath, pain or discomfort in respiratory muscles, nasal irritation, and the temporary stopping of breath
  • Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is a disorder of the nervous system. Narcolepsy may be caused by the reduction of specific protein levels in the body. The protein that is most commonly affected by Narcolepsy is hypocretin; this protein is produced in the brain. This disorder tends to be common in families.
    • Mimicking symptoms: Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue, sleep attacks during the day, disorientation upon awakening, and loss of muscle tone
  • Hyperactivity Disorders: Hyperactive disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder, ADD, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD are commonly confused with Sleep Apnea. When in a hyperactive physical state of being, individuals experience abnormally high levels of activity. ADD and ADHD are considered to be developmental disorders. Sleep Apnea is most commonly misdiagnosed as a hyperactivity disorder in children and young adults
    • Mimicking symptoms: Lack of concentration or focus, apathy, boredom, difficulty processing information quickly and effectively, and mood swings
  • Heart Failure: During heart failure, the heart is no longer able to pump blood at an effective speed and the rest of the body does not receive enough blood. Either the muscles of the heart cannot pump blood out of the heart efficiently, or the heart muscles stiffen. When heart muscles stiffen it becomes difficult for them to fill up with blood. Heart failure can come on suddenly without warning. In most cases, however, it is a chronic long-term condition. This condition can affect either the left or the right side of the heart; it most cases it affects both sides of the heart.
    • Mimicking symptoms: Shortness of breath, fatigue, trouble sleeping lying down, frequent arousal and urination at night, coughing, trouble sleeping, weight gain, rapid pulse, lack of alertness, and swelling of the legs.

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