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Portable Monitors OK for Spotting Sleep Apnea: Docs

But the devices aren't for everyone, experts advise

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Using a portable monitor instead of a sleep laboratory means "you're not paying someone to be up at night monitoring you, you're not having to pay for the rent and the electricity," Holty said. The portable monitors also offer an alternative to patients who don't live near a sleep lab, he added.

Dr. Michael Thorpy, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, pointed out that the portable home monitors don't provide useful data in about 20 percent of patients. The portable monitors also can be unreliable at diagnosing sleep apnea in patients with mild forms of the condition, he added.

Insurers who insist on the machines "need to read these guidelines to understand that there are limitations," he said.

As for treatment, patients are often prescribed masks that keep their airways open through pressurized air that enters their nostrils. But many patients can't tolerate the masks and refuse to use them unless their sleep worsens.

In some cases, patients can improve sleep apnea through other treatments and by losing weight. Obesity is a risk factor for the condition.

Successfully treating sleep apnea can make a big difference to patients, Thorpy said. "They see improvement and not just in terms of their overall health benefits. They come in and say they're so grateful because we've dramatically changed their lives."

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