A medical “sign” is something we doctors use to help us predict a diagnosis. It can be something as simple as the way you look when you walk or the way your foot moves when you stroke the sole of your foot. A “sign” does not make the diagnosis but helps us look in the right direction. Many signs go back centuries to when early physicians first began looking for clues to help determine what was wrong with their patients.
Helping physicians decide who may have sleep apnea (a problem we have spoken about many times) can obviously be helpful. Predicting which patients may need sleep studies and who may really have sleep apnea can speed diagnosis. A recent questionnaire asking if your bed partner ever pokes or elbows you at night because you are snoring or because you stop breathing has been found to be almost as useful as more sophisticated and in depth surveys.
In men who are overweight the history of being elbowed has a high predictive value with a specificity of over 96%. This means that there is a significant chance the patient being elbowed has obstructive sleep apnea. Of course, an overnight sleep study is still necessary to make an accurate diagnosis but this is a “sign” you can use at home to determine if you should seek help for possible sleep apnea. You can still have problems even if you are not elbowed but if you are – get a sleep test.