This sleep problem may increase COVID-19 risk

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Sleep apnea causes breaks in breathing (apnea) while a person is asleep.

In a recent study at the Turku University Hospital and elsewhere, researchers found that sleep apnea could be a big risk factor for COVID-19.

The study is published in Sleep Medicine and Disorders: International Journal. One author is MD Thijs Feuth.

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.

In the study, the registered information of these patients was checked with the aim to unravel the risks for the severe form of COVID-19 and the need for intensive care.

The team found that 29% of the patients admitted to hospital care had already been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

The number is significant, as only 3.1% 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.

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