CHICAGO (Reuters) - An experimental infrared camera may be able to detect breathing problems in people with sleep apnea, taking at least some of the discomfort out of diagnosis of this chronic sleeping disorder, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.
Diagnosis of sleep apnea — a breathing interruption that disturbs sleep — currently involves attaching a network of electrodes to the head, face, chest, abdomen, and even some inside the nose, and then asking people to fall asleep in a sleep lab.
“You wind up with in excess of 20 electrodes,” said Dr. Jayasimha Murthy of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. “That can affect the way you sleep.”
He said some people who take these tests lie flat on their backs for fear of disturbing the electrodes, but this could actually make apnea worse. “You could be overestimating disease just by your test,” Murthy said in a telephone interview.
Instead, he and colleagues devised an imaging system using a remote, infrared camera that can track a patient’s breathing during sleep. The camera monitors changes in heat signals released when people inhale and exhale — data that is used to detect breathing disturbances.
“Our thinking right now is a complete shift in paradigm — trying to think about non-contact sensors so we can take away at least some of the electrodes to make it more comfortable,” said Murthy, who presented his results at a scientific meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in Chicago.
Obstructive sleep apnea — the most common type — occurs when breathing stops during sleep, a process that can be repeated hundreds of times a night.
In adults, it typically results when tissues in the throat and mouth block the airway. In addition to never getting a restful night’s sleep, patients with the condition can develop a host of problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Murthy and colleagues wanted to see how their heat-sensing infrared camera might fare compared to two standard tools for collecting sleep data.
They studied data taken from the infrared camera — positioned 6 to 8 feet from the person’s head — and compared it to data gathered by conventional means in 13 men and women.
The infrared camera detected breathing problems that interrupted sleep at the same rate as two current detection methods, they found.
The infrared system would only replace a few of the electrodes, but Murthy is testing it on other measures.
He said the study proves that non-invasive detection of sleep apnea has potential and should be studied further.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimates that 18 million Americans have sleep apnea.