April 08, 2020

COVID-19 and Chronic Medical Conditions

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is so new that experts don’t fully understand why it affects certain groups of people more than others, but the ones who are thought to be the most at risk for severe illness are people over 65 and those who have chronic medical conditions.


What Chronic Medical Conditions Put People at Risk for Getting Severely Ill from COVID-19?

People with the following chronic medical conditions have shown to be more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19:

  • Cancer
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Asthma or other chronic lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease (especially if on dialysis)
  • A suppressed immune system due to a disease or treatment
  • HIV
  • Severe obesity

Why Are People with Chronic Medical Conditions More at Risk for Serious Illness with COVID-19?

Right now, it’s not entirely clear, but here are some possibilities that experts believe increase their risk:

  • A weakened immune system caused by age or illness is unable to fight off the virus, which could lead to an overwhelming infection. 
  • The immune system has an exaggerated response, causing so much inflammation and tissue damage that the immune reaction itself causes complications.
  • Past organ damage could make additional damage caused by COVID-19 more than a person can handle. People with smoking-related lung disease, for example, can suffer more respiratory complications from the virus. 
  • The stress of COVID-19 infection can increase demand on a damaged or aging organ, such as the heart.
  • Medications taken for chronic conditions can increase the severity of infection. 

Why Are People over 65 at Higher Risk?

As we age, our immune system naturally becomes weaker, which makes it harder for the body to fight off infections.

How Can I Best Protect Myself if I Have a Chronic Medical Condition?

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself if you’re over 65 or have a chronic medical condition is to avoid being exposed to the virus in the first place. To avoid being exposed, it’s recommended that you adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home as much as possible. If you do go outside, which is fine, just avoid being closer than six feet away from other people.
  • Avoid gatherings of any size, including worship services. Find out if your place of worship offers streaming services and attend those in the safety of your own home. 
  • Avoid unnecessary travel of any kind.
  • If you do have to go out for groceries or medications, don’t go in peak hours and keep at least six feet away from others. 
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after going out, for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. 
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth because this is how the virus enters your body. 
  • As much as possible, avoid touching highly used surfaces, such as grocery cart handles and elevator buttons. If you do use a grocery cart, wipe the handle with a disinfecting wipe if possible. Use a tissue to touch elevator buttons. If that’s not possible, just make sure to avoid touching your face and wash your hands as soon as possible. 
  • Make sure others in your household are following the same precautions described above. 
  • Routinely clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your home, such as doorknobs, tables, faucet handles, television remotes, and cell phones.
  • Maintain healthy eating habits, get enough sleep, and manage your stress levels. This will help keep your immune system as strong as it can be. 
  • Manage your chronic condition. Take your medications and try to have at least a 90-day supply on hand. 
  • Monitor your condition frequently, including blood pressure monitoring, blood sugar checks, and lung function tests.
  • Don’t smoke!

What Can My Loved Ones do to Help Reduce My Risk?

If your loved ones don’t live with you, it’s best that they not visit in person. Instead, stay in touch through video chats or phone calls. Here are some other things they can do to help:

  • Do your shopping. The more you can avoid going to grocery stores or pharmacies, the better. After they’ve done your shopping, have them leave everything outside and wait for them to leave to bring it inside. Then jump on a call to thank them and catch up!
  • Stay in touch. Talk regularly and make sure your family knows how you’re feeling and that you’re not having any complications. Also, staying connected makes you feel better!
  • Stay away. As hard as it is to avoid seeing loved ones in person, it’s one of the best things you can do to protect yourself. They could be asymptomatic, but still have COVID-19. What could end up being a minor infection for them could be devastating for you. 

More Questions About COVID-19?

If you have more questions or concerns about COVID-19, go to BaptistHealth.com or visit other reputable sites, such as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


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