Obstructive sleep apnoea can raise risk of long Covid

People with sleep apnoea who get infected with Covid should seek early treatment, and pay attention to their symptoms. Photo:

New York: According to a study conducted by a research team in the US, people with obstructive sleep apnoea may be at significantly higher risk of suffering long Covid, Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a common disorder characterised by repetitive episodes of nocturnal breathing cessation due to upper airway collapse. However, the condition is often underdiagnosed.

The study, published online in the journal 'Sleep', found that observed increases in risk for long Covid in adults with sleep apnoea remained significant even when the research team accounted for obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and hospitalisation at the time of their initial Covid infection, all known to independently contribute to risk for long Covid.

Women showed an 89 per cent increased likelihood of having long Covid if they had obstructive sleep apnea, compared to a 59 per cent increased chance for men. While the underlying associations aren't clear, women with sleep apnea included in the study may have had more severe conditions than men.

The severity of obstructive sleep apnea was not controlled for, but sleep apnea is more likely to be undiagnosed in women -- which could create a sample with women who have more severe cases. Other studies have also found that women may be more likely to be diagnosed with long Covid and seek health care for the condition.

"There's still so much to uncover about long Covid, but this study will inform clinical care by identifying patients that should be watched more closely," said corresponding author Hannah Mandel, a senior research scientist at New York University - Langone Health, supported by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"People with sleep apnoea who get infected with Covid should seek early treatment, pay attention to their symptoms, and keep up with their vaccinations to lower the risk of infection in the first place," she added.

The team reviewed data across three research networks of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 between March 2020 and February 2022. Two networks included adult patients -- with 330,000 patients and 1.7 million patients. The third included 102,000 children.

In contrast to the patterns seen in adults, the contribution of sleep apnoea to the risk of long Covid disappeared in children when the researchers controlled for other risk factors, including obesity. Long Covid is an umbrella term for one or more symptoms that people can experience for weeks, months, or years after a Covid-19 infection. The symptoms include brain fog, fatigue, depression, and sleep disorders.

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