Sleep apnea potential risk factor for COVID-19

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Sleep apnea could be a possible risk factor for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to new research published in Sleep Medicine and Disorders: International Journal.

The study focused on the register information of COVID-19 patients who were admitted to Turku University Hospital during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring 2020. Southwest Finland, with a population of 480,000, managed the first wave of the pandemic with a relatively small number of infected people, the researchers said. Patients with a positive test result amounted to 278 individuals.

From the infected patients, 28 were admitted to hospital care at Turku University Hospital by May 3, 2020. The register information of these patients was studied with the aim to unravel the risks for the severe form of COVID-19 and the need for intensive care.

The comparison of the register information revealed that 29 percent of the patients admitted to hospital care had already been diagnosed with sleep apnea. In comparison, 3.1 percent of the population of Southwest Finland is getting treatment for sleep apnea, according to the study.

Though the total number of patients in the study was low, the researchers said the share of sleep apnea patients was high. The extent of sleep apnea among the patients cannot only be explained by the obesity often met in sleep apnea patients, being one of the already known risk factors for severe COVID-1, the researchers said.

"The finding was strong enough to justify the question of sleep apnea as a risk factor for COVID-19. In principle, a patient may need hospital care when they have a COVID-19 infection if they also have sleep apnea,” said Thijs Feuth, MD, first author of the research article and a fellow in pulmonary diseases. “Sleep apnea anticipates a severe form of COVID-19.”

Sleep apnea causes breaks in breathing while a person is asleep. The disease is diagnosed by a nocturnal polysomnography. The connection between sleep apnea and COVID-19 has been confirmed by other studies which are now under review but are already available as pre-publications. The findings of this new study were comparable with other reported findings, the researchers said.

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