COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that has led to millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. had an underlying medical condition.
Here are common health conditions that can increase the risk of COVID-19 complications.
In studies done in the U.S., China, Italy, and several other countries, hypertension (high blood pressure) was the most common underlying health condition in patients who died from COVID-19. This is likely because hypertension, especially if it’s poorly controlled, puts excess stress on the heart and blood vessels. COVID-19 then causes additional stress to the cardiovascular system because the heart must work harder when the lungs are inflamed or infected. Also, in addition to causing lung damage, COVID-19 has also been shown to cause damage to the cardiovascular system itself.
Patients can be proactive by taking their hypertension medications as directed, and by minimizing risk factors for hypertension, including tobacco use, obesity, and an unhealthy diet.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes increase the risk of COVID-19 complications. This is because the body has more difficulty regulating blood sugars when it’s fighting an infection and because poorly-controlled diabetes causes tissue damage throughout the body, making it more susceptible to further damage caused by an infection.
It is important for people with diabetes to carefully monitor their blood sugars and take their medications as directed. It’s also important to follow the recommended lifestyle modifications, including maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and limiting carbohydrate intake.
Chronic lung disease
Chronic lung disease includes conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Because the lungs of patients with these conditions are often already inflamed or damaged, a respiratory infection like COVID-19 can cause further lung damage and place additional stress on the respiratory system.
It’s recommended that patients with chronic lung disease take every precaution possible to avoid contracting COVID-19, take their medications as directed, and avoid tobacco smoke and other lung irritants. It’s also critical for these patients to seek immediate medical attention if they experience worsening symptoms of their chronic lung condition or symptoms of COVID-19.
Patients with severe obesity, defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or above, are at an increased risk of serious COVID-19 complications. This is because obesity places additional pressure on the abdomen and chest, making it more difficult to breathe and because obesity strains the heart and lungs.
Obesity also increases the risk of other health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension, which have been strongly linked to COVID-19 complications.
It’s more important than ever for obese patients to work with a healthcare professional to create a weight loss plan, and for patients who are not obese to continue their efforts to maintain a healthy weight.
Chronic kidney disease
Patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), especially those who are on dialysis, are at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications because infections place an increased strain on the kidneys and because kidney disease weakens the immune system. Also, these patients are at a higher risk because kidney disease is often caused by other health conditions like diabetes and hypertension that have both been shown to increase COVID-19 complications.
It’s important for CKD patients to take their medications as directed, and for dialysis patients to continue their usual dialysis schedule.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant