According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, more than twelve million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. They conservatively estimate that ten million remain undiagnosed.
McDuffie Regional Medical Center is doing its part to help those undiagnosed in the area find out if they suffer from the condition that causes numerous health problems and prevents its victims from getting a good night's sleep.
MRMC now features a sleep lab where doctors can refer patients with sleep abnormalities. Patients spend the night in the lab while instruments measure a wide range of functions. Doctors then use the data to help diagnose the problem, and it all happens a short drive away for most McDuffie residents.
"It's wonderful. Actually, my patients are much more likely to go because it's here at home," said Thomson-based physician Kelli Carter who has referred nearly 100 patients to the sleep lab in the past six months.
For Thomson resident Marvin Sorenson, having the sleep lab nearby is ideal. Adjustments to his treatment can be identified without an overnight stay in Augusta or lots of driving for his family.
"I think having that sleep lab here in Thomson is going to make a lot of people happy and save a lot of people money," said Mr. Sorenson, a patient of Dr. Carter's who was referred to the sleep lab.
Patients who undergo the study are hooked up to several monitoring devices such as an electroencephalogram to monitor brain activity so that the technicians can observe the sleep stages.
Heart rate, blood oxygen level, breathing rate and blood pressure are also monitored. Aside from that, the patient's part is simple: go to sleep.
"Once you get there, you go into just like your own bedroom at home and get into your pajamas," Mr. Sorenson said. "Then they wire you up from head to toe to get the different readings. ...They provide everything for you, and they make it easy and comfortable."
The results are used to diagnose a host of sleep disorders including sleep apnea, which is a dangerous problem, according to Dr. Carter.
"It's deadly," she said. "In the end if you don't treat it, it causes severe pulmonary hypertension, which leads to basically right and left sided heart failure."
The lab began, according to MRMC CEO Doug Keir, out of the hospital's need to provide profitable services that are useful to the public and help foster a growing medical community within the county.
"We ended up with a room that we didn't have anything in it and no future for it," Mr. Keir said of the former stress testing room that was later transformed into the sleep lab.
The lab -- which tested over 200 patients last year -- has recently been expanded to handle two patients per night. Hospital officials and doctors alike are glad the service is available and expanding.
"It's gone very well. We're real pleased with it," Mr. Keir said.
Dr. Carter thinks the sleep lab is a good addition that fits the mission of healthcare in McDuffie County.
"I'm trying to get as many additional services and ancillary services as possible for our community," she said. "Our community is growing, and I would like to see us as a major medical center outside of Augusta so we can stop being seen as a band-aid station."