Obstructive sleep apnoea associated with increased risks for long COVID

Among people who have had COVID-19, adults with obstructive sleep apnoea were more likely to experience long-term symptoms suggestive of long COVID than those without the sleep disorder, according to a large study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the US.

In fact, multiple analyses of electronic health records (EHR) identified adults with sleep apnoea may have up to a 75% higher risk of developing long COVID. The findings, part of the NIH’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative, were published in the journal SLEEP.

The research, which came from EHR data of more than 2.2 million Americans with COVID-19, suggests close monitoring after a COVID-19 infection may help adults with sleep apnoea. The findings may also strengthen understanding of why some people are more likely to develop long COVID after acute infection.

“We still have a lot to learn about the long-term effects of this virus, but this study could inform clinical care by identifying patients who may benefit from closer monitoring,” said Marishka K. Brown, Ph.D., director of the National Centre on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

“People with obstructive sleep apnoea should also keep up with their vaccinations to minimise the risk of infection,” said Lorna E. Thorpe, Ph.D., M.P.H., the study’s senior author and director of the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Population Health at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, New York City.

The researchers also found women in the study had an 89% increased likelihood of having long COVID if they had obstructive sleep apnoea, compared to a 59% increased chance for men. The underlying associations aren’t clear. However, women diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea included in this study may have had more severe conditions than men. Severity of obstructive sleep apnoea was not controlled for, but sleep apnoea 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 healthcare for the condition.  

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