How Gender and Financial State May Affect Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

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Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder which closes the airways during sleep, is thought to affect more than 18 million Americans, many of whom will struggle to get diagnosed. Though there are many reasons that people don’t get diagnosed, there seem to be two prevailing factors right now: money and gender.

Testing for sleep apnea is notoriously expensive and usually requires an overnight stay in a lab. The process, which can cost as much as $3,000, requires a medical technician to attach wires to a person’s body and monitor them throughout the night. If a person’s insurance doesn’t cover the procedure, they may have to pay the entire cost out of pocket.

Fortunately, there are a few alternatives to labs for potential sleep apnea patients. Several companies offer the option to order away for a testing kit, which patients can wear and sleep with in the comfort of their own home. The kit collects data, which the patient sends back to the company providing the kit.

The company then provides an analysis, sometimes from a certified sleep physician, and the patient can choose where to go from there. Kits and other wearable home diagnosis items can cost anywhere from $100-$300, so they’re still not cheap, but they’re considerably less expensive than lab testing.

Dr. Kelly Brown, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Sleep Medicine of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC30 that she’s even seen an uptick in patients asking about sleep apnea as a result of wearable activity trackers like the Fitbit and Jawbone, that track sleep habits.

Even with cheaper alternatives like home test kits, women may still have a hard time getting diagnosed. Sleep apnea is more prevalent in men, but since women exhibit different symptoms (like fatigue and headaches), they’re less likely to be diagnosed.

According to Brown, approximately 15% of women have sleep apnea, but very few are actually diagnosed. Unfortunately, undiagnosed sleep apnea can lead to a four times greater risk of stroke and a three times greater risk of heart disease. Sleep apnea sufferers also run the risk of falling asleep at the wheel or having their mood affected by a lack of REM sleep.

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