8 Health Conditions With Increased Coronavirus Risk

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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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 COVID-19 with more serious symptoms and 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. This list is not inclusive of all risk factors. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors for COVID-19.

  • 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 moderate to severe asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension 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, pneumococcal vaccine, and COVID-19 vaccine.

  • 3
    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
    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

    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.

    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. For example, what is the level of COVID-19 vaccination in the facility?

  • 6
    obese man taking pill for dieting

    People of any age have a greater risk of severe COVID-19 if they are obese. Some of the reasons why obesity worsens COVID-19 are chronic inflammation, blood clot risk, and decreased lung capacity.

  • 7
    Close-up of pregnant woman's belly with different people's hands on it

    Pregnant women who develop COVID-19 have a higher risk of it progressing to severe COVID-19 and possibly needing care in a hospital. At-risk medical conditions for COVID-19 combined with pregnancy further increase the risk. The COVID-19 vaccine is available for pregnant and lactating individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted no safety concerns for pregnant people who were vaccinated or for their babies, based on early data from voluntary safety monitoring systems. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has also noted no safety concerns so far, and recommends the vaccine be made available to pregnant women.

  • 8
    Chronic Kidney Disease
    Female doctor with illustration of kidneys over tablet

    Kidney disease increases the risk of more severe illness with COVID-19. Dialysis weakens the immune system, which makes it harder to fight off the virus. Kidney transplant recipients on anti-rejection drugs will also be immunosuppressed. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for people with CKD, but it may be less protective compared to someone without CKD or on immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplant.

What You Can Do

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

  • Get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Keep your distance—about 6 feet—from visibly sick people.
  • Avoid crowded, indoor areas, and limit any necessary shopping to off-peak times.
  • 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 wear a facial covering and 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.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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