5 Health Conditions With Increased Coronavirus Risk

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  • The novel coronavirus of 2019 causes a mild respiratory illness in about 80% of infected individuals. From worldwide data, a certain percentage of infected people—predominantly the elderly—develop severe lung problems like pneumonia. Another risk factor for serious coronavirus symptoms or a potentially fatal outcome is having a pre-existing chronic health condition.

    People with the following health conditions are at increased risk for more severe coronavirus illness.

  • 1
    Heart Disease
    Woman with chest pain

    Even though the virus targets the lungs, someone with an existing heart condition is more susceptible to developing serious illness, such as viral pneumonia. The heart and lungs work closely together, so if one is not working as well as it normally does (the lungs), it puts a burden on the other (the heart). The heart has to work harder to pump the available oxygenated blood (from the lungs) to the rest of the body, along with excess lung fluid generated from the viral pneumonia. Heart disease includes coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure.

  • 2
    Lung Disease
    man outdoors using rescue inhaler

    The COVID-19 virus attacks the respiratory system. People with respiratory disease, including asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), may have a harder time recovering from COVID-19 and may experience more serious complications, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome. Take steps now to refill all your medicines, including your rescue medicine. Ask your doctor if additional treatment now can help protect your lungs and give your body a boost in case of a respiratory infection. Stay up to date on available vaccinations, including the flu shot and the pneumococcal vaccine.

  • 3
    Diabetes
    Woman checking blood sugar on finger

    A Chinese study of 191 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 showed that 91 patients had a co-existing condition. Of that patient group, 19% had diabetes. People with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease, which is itself a risk factor for COVID-19 complications. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar is one of the most important things you can do. If you are not sure how well you are controlling your blood sugar, call your doctor now for a checkup. If you have diabetes complications, be extra prepared in case of an outbreak in your community, and make sure you have a 90-day supply of all medicines you take.

  • 4
    Immunodeficiency
    Cancer patient hugging granddaughter

    The immune system is front and center when it comes to fighting infections. People with chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, often have a poorer-functioning immune system than people without those conditions. Chemotherapy for cancer, certain biologics, and drugs to prevent organ rejection also suppress the immune system. Primary immunodeficiency can make you more susceptible to infection. Eating healthy, nutrition-packed foods will help you fight infections. Practice good hygiene to reduce your risk of infection, and ask those around you to do the same.

  • 5
    Older Age or Frailty
    portrait-of-smiling-senior-man

    COVID-19 has so far affected older people more than people younger than 60. The two main reasons for this are: 1) The immune system wanes with age, so it is not as effective at fighting infection; and 2) Older people are more likely to have another medical condition. Both of these situations make it harder for the body to fight off and recover from illness, including respiratory distress.

    Stay informed about what is happening with COVID-19 in your community. If there is community spread near you, follow your county’s public health guidance. If you or your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, ask what precautions the administration is taking to reduce the risk of infection.

    What You Can Do

    To help protect yourself from any type of infection, including the novel coronavirus, you can do your part:

    • Keep your distance—about 6 feet—from visibly sick people (e.g., anyone with a cough, runny nose, sore throat, or congestion).

    • Avoid crowded, indoor areas, and limit any necessary shopping to off-peak times. If coronavirus is circulating in your community, ask a healthy family member or friend to do your shopping. Check with your local grocery store for delivery service.

    • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands or when you are out in public.

    • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly for 20 seconds each time.

    • If you have a caregiver(s), make sure they wash their hands before helping you.

    • Clean and disinfect your living space and have disinfectant wipes on hand to clean surfaces you must touch outside of your home.

    • Have extra supplies on hand including medicines, food and toiletries.

    • Have healthcare provider numbers to call after hours.

    • Avoid non-essential travel, and do not travel to areas with documented COVID-19 cases.

    Get general preparation tips and refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more ways people at risk can prepare for COVID-19.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 10
  1. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
  2. What heart patients should know about coronavirus. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/02/27/what-heart-patients-should-know-about-coronavirus
  3. Zhou F, Yu T, Du R et al. Clinical course and risk factors for mortality of adult inpatients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: a retrospective cohort study. The Lancet. Published Online March 9, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30566-3 
  4. People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html
  5. Coronavirus and Older Adults: Your Questions Answered. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/cdc-covid-19.html 


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