Screening for sleep apnea using pulse oximetry and a clinical score

Chest. 1991 Sep;100(3):631-5. doi: 10.1378/chest.100.3.631.


Confirmation of the diagnosis of OSA currently requires overnight polysomnography. This study evaluates the usefulness of pulse oximetry together with a clinical score in identifying OSA. Forty patients were assigned a clinical score based on the presence or absence of loud snoring, observations of interrupted breathing during sleep, hypersomnolence, obesity and essential hypertension. Each underwent a night of domiciliary pulse oximetry followed by nocturnal polysomnography. Significant OSA was confirmed in 26. All 15 patients with positive pulse oximetry tracings had significant OSA (apnea index greater than or equal to 10). Five of eight with negative tracings were also shown to have significant OSA along with six of the seven patients with inadequate or indeterminate tracings. Clinical scores were significantly different for those with and without OSA. This study confirms the usefulness of nocturnal pulse oximetry in establishing the diagnosis of OSA and highlights the value of a clinical score in improving its sensitivity as a screening tool.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Oximetry*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / diagnosis*