People with sleep apnea at greater risk for long COVID, study shows

A new study suggests that those suffering from sleep apnea may be at a higher risk of developing long COVID. File Photo courtesy of Penn Medicine
A new study suggests that those suffering from sleep apnea may be at a higher risk of developing long COVID. File Photo courtesy of Penn Medicine

May 11 (UPI) -- A new government-sponsored study examining sleep apnea suggests that those with the disorder may be at higher risk of what is called long COVID.

The findings, part of the National Institutes of Health's Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery, were published Thursday in the scientific journal Sleep.


Long COVID is an umbrella term for one or more symptoms that people can experience for weeks, months or years after the initial COVID-19 infection. The connection with obstructive sleep apnea came from research on electronic health records of more than 2.2 million U.S. residents infected by COVID-19.

"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, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The authors searched through data from three RECOVER Enhance Recovery networks that included 1.7 million participants. All participants tested positive for COVID-19 from March 2020 to February 2022.

After controlling for similarities among patients, including COVID-19 severity, age, sex, race and ethnicity, and underlying medical conditions, researchers found adults with obstructive sleep apnea in N3C, the largest study, were 75% more likely to experience long COVID. For adults in the PCORnet group, the increased odds of having long COVID was 12%.


"People with obstructive sleep apnea should also keep up with their vaccinations to minimize the risk of infection," said Lorna E. Thorpe, 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.

The study's authors said a follow-up analysis with additional patients confirmed the association between sleep apnea and those suffering from long COVID in adults.

"Part of the challenge is that many of the risk factors for sleep apnea are also risk factors for COVID-19 outcomes," Thorpe said. "We don't know entirely why we are seeing this association."

The researchers also found women in the N3C study had an 89% increased likelihood of having long COVID if they had obstructive sleep apnea, compared to a 59% increased chance for men. The underlying associations, though, were not confirmed.

In January, a study showed there are seven long-term health symptoms that are directly related to long COVID, which include fast-beating heart, hair loss, fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, joint pain and obesity.

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