Study Examines Links to Sleep Apnea in Patients Hospitalized With COVID-19

More than 1 in 4 patients with COVID-19 admitted to the hospital during the first wave of the pandemic in Finland were found to have obstructive sleep apnea, signaling a potential at-risk population.

More than 1 in 4 patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) admitted to the hospital during the first wave of the pandemic in Finland were found to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), signaling a potential at-risk population, according to study findings published in Sleep Medicine and Disorders: International Journal.

As researchers of the study note, cases of COVID-19 during the early phase of the pandemic were relatively small among the population of 480,000 in southwest Finland, in which 278 individuals tested positive. Assessing the 28 patients with COVID-19 who were admitted to Turku University Hospital by May 3, 2020, they sought to examine the register information of these patients to determine any risks that contributed to severe cases of COVID-19 and the need for intensive care.

“The idea behind the study was the need for real time information about COVID-19. The research permission was extensive, because little was known about the novel coronavirus," said lead study author Thijs Feuth, MD, a fellow in pulmonary diseases, in a statement.

In the retrospective cohort study, researchers derived data from Turku University Hospital’s records and characterized patients based on basic descriptive statistics, including medians, percentiles, and frequencies. These differences were then tested with the Mann Whitney U-test and Pearson’s chi-square test.

After analyzing data on patients admitted to Turku University Hospital, register information unveiled that 29% of those patients had already been diagnosed with OSA. Moreover, this significant percentage may highlight a unmet need for treatment of sleep apnea in the population of southwest Finland as only 3.1% are receiving treatment for the condition.

While the study cohort was small, researchers highlight that the share of patients with OSA was high, with comparable admission findings to that reported elsewhere. Notably, the C-reactive protein (CRP) and procalcitonin (PCT) were higher in patients who were eventually transferred to critical care in comparison to in those who were not (median CRP = 187 mg/L versus 52 mg/L; P < .005; median PCT 0.46 versus 0.12; P = .047).

"The finding was strong enough to justify the question of sleep apnea as a risk factor for COVID-19,” said Feuth. “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."


Feuth T, Saaresranta T, Karlsson A, et al. Is sleep apnea a risk factor for Covid-19? findings from a retrospective cohort study. Sleep Med Dis Int J. Published online October 22, 2020. doi:10.15406/smdij.2020.04.00075

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