Sleep apnea causes breaks in breathing (apnea) while a person is asleep.
In a new study, researchers found that sleep apnea could a big risk factor for COVID-19.
This is the first COVID-19-related study where sleep apnea as a suspected risk factor emerges as the main finding.
The research was conducted by a team at the Turku University Hospital and the University of Turku.
Southwest Finland, with a population of 480,000, managed the first wave of the pandemic with a relatively small number of infected people. Patients with a positive test result amounted to 278 individuals.
Of the infected patients, 28 were admitted to hospital care at Turku University Hospital by 3 May 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% of the patients admitted to hospital care had already been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
The number is significant, as only 3.1 percent of the population of Southwest Finland is getting treatment for sleep apnea.
Even though the total number of patients in the study was low, 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-19.
The team says 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. Sleep apnea anticipates a severe form of COVID-19.
The connection between sleep apnea and COVID-19 has been confirmed by other studies that are now under review but are already available as pre-publications.
The findings of this new study were comparable with other reported findings.
One author of the study is MD Thijs Feuth, a fellow in pulmonary diseases.
The study is published in Sleep Medicine and Disorders: International Journal.
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