We don’t know how many people have sleep apnea. Estimates of the frequency of sleep apnea vary widely, from a low of 2% of adults to 26% or more of adults aged 30 to 70. Part of the reason why we have such widely disparate estimates is that most people with sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. More comprehensive diagnosis of sleep apnea is further hampered by the fact that the condition is often misdiagnosed as other illnesses or disorders. 

Here are four of the most common misdiagnoses of sleep apnea. If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions, you should consider getting a home sleep study to see if you have sleep apnea instead of or in addition to the condition your doctor diagnosed.

It is a relatively low-cost way to make sure you will get effective treatment that will lead to genuine improvement of your condition. 

man sleeping peacefully in his bed

Insomnia

Insomnia is a catch-all type of sleep disorder. The name literally means “not-sleep,” so the condition is actually more like a simple description of what you’re experiencing rather than a medical state with well-defined causes and outcomes.

Insomnia can be primary, which means it occurs on its own, while secondary insomnia is caused by another condition. Insomnia is also divided into onset insomnia and maintenance insomnia. In onset insomnia, you have trouble falling asleep. In maintenance insomnia, you have trouble staying asleep. You can have both types.

Often, primary maintenance insomnia is actually sleep apnea that’s been misdiagnosed. You wake up at night not for no good reason, but because your air supply is cut off because of sleep apnea.

Note: Having another sleep disorder could interfere with the accuracy of a home sleep study. If you don’t actually have insomnia, this isn’t an issue, but if you do have insomnia, it might make the sleep study inconclusive. 

Low Testosterone

Testosterone is an important hormone that regulates many functions in the body. It is especially important for men. When men experience low testosterone, they might experience many negative symptoms, such as:

  • Low sex drive
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Memory problems
  • Fatigue
  • Moodiness and irritability

Looking at this list, there is a striking level of overlap between these and the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Low testosterone is diagnosed with a blood test that measures the level of the hormone in your blood. This might make you think that the result would then be specific to the condition. However, there’s a complication: sleep apnea can cause low testosterone levels. So if you have low testosterone levels, you don’t know if that’s because of some other cause or because sleep apnea is keeping your body from restoring testosterone levels during sleep.

Here’s a further complication: some research indicates that the typical treatment for low testosterone, hormone supplements, not only might not work because of sleep apnea, they might actually make sleep apnea worse! Therefore, it’s a good idea to get tested for sleep apnea before getting treatment for low testosterone. 

Depression

Low mood and depression are common sleep apnea symptoms. However, doctors and psychologists often neglect this and diagnose people with primary depression without testing the possibility that sleep apnea is the source of depression. Instead, people are prescribed antidepressants.

The problem with antidepressants is that they are not highly effective, and they can come with some serious side effects. Antidepressants relieve depression symptoms for only about 1 in 5 people who take them.

On the other hand, sleep apnea treatment can be highly effective for people who have depression symptoms. In one study, 73% of people with sleep apnea had depression symptoms. With effective sleep apnea treatment, 95% of them saw their depression symptoms resolve.

Many of the people with depression symptoms had been prescribed and were taking antidepressants when the study started. None of the subjects started or stopped taking antidepressants during the study, and those taking medication saw a similar improvement in their depression as those who weren’t taking antidepressants. For these patients, sleep apnea treatment did what their medication hadn’t: resolved their depression.

Studies like this show why it’s a good idea to consider a home sleep study after you’ve been diagnosed with depression. It can give you important information that will help you get better results. 

Looking for a Home Sleep Study?

One problem with misdiagnosis is that your doctor might be so sure of their diagnosis that they might not want to entertain other possibilities. In this case, you need another doctor who can give you a second opinion to make sure you’re getting the best treatment for your condition. At SleepTest.com, our advanced telemedicine approach makes it easy for you to talk to another doctor about your symptoms and decide whether you would benefit from a home sleep study.

You can start the process by calling (800) 753-3783 or using our contact form.