10/18/21—With nearly 5 million deaths and roughly 239 million cases globally,1 COVID-19 has made an impact on the world. While infection can present with mild symptoms, in some individuals with preexisting conditions it can lead to severe consequences, including hospitalization and death. Knowing these conditions can help you take extra precautions or take precautions to protect someone in your life who may be at greater risk.
Individuals with current or past heart problems, including cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension, congenital heart disease, heart failure, and coronary artery disease,2 may be at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection than otherwise healthy individuals. According to the University of Maryland Medical System, because the heart and lungs work together in the body for oxygenation, any infection of the lungs, like COVID-19, can negatively affect the heart.
Diabetes, both type 1 and 2, is another condition that may lead to severe COVID-19. “People with diabetes are not at higher risk of getting COVID-19, but may have more serious complications if they do get it,” explains Kashif Munir, MD, medical director of the UM Center For Diabetes and Endocrinology at Midtown.7 Diabetes challenges your immune system’s efficiency, once COVID-19 is contracted it may be harder for a diabetic individual to fight the virus.2
Because COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, anyone with respiratory issues like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary hypertension or embolism, and bronchiectasis, should take extra precaution to protect themselves. Once COVID-19 is contracted it can cause inflammation of lung tissue, further exacerbating ongoing respiratory ailments. For this reason, smokers may also be at higher risk of COVID-19 difficulties.5
Down syndrome, a birth defect where a person has an additional 21 chromosome, can be another contributor to cases of severe COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder, effecting roughly 6,000 babies a year in the U.S, with rates of occurrence increasing. Individuals with down syndrome are predisposed to lung infection in general,2 which can put them at greater risk of severe infection with COVID-19.
Anyone with a weakened immune system may be at risk of increased severity of COVID-19. This type of preexisting condition may occur in numerous populations, including cancer and transplant patients, individuals with HIV or AIDS, anyone with substance abuse issues, or those on certain long-term drugs such as steroids.5
Pregnant or postpartum individuals also can have a higher chance for COVID severity, not only affecting them but the health of their baby too, with greater chances of preterm labor5 should they contract COVID. “Pregnant women can experience changes to their immune systems that can make them more vulnerable to respiratory viruses,” said Jeanne Sheffield, M.D., an expert in maternal-fetal medicine at Johns Hopkins. “These changes mean that expectant mothers should be proactive when it comes to safety measures.6”
If you suspect you may have a condition that puts you at substantial risk of severe COVID-19 complications, talk to your doctor to address your concerns. Prevention can include social distancing, avoiding large crowds, masking in public and thorough hand washing. The CDC recommends anyone with a preexisting condition work closely with their primary care doctor to not only manage your condition, but learn further protections you can take against COVID-19.
1 World Health Organization. (n.d.). Who coronavirus (COVID-19) dashboard. World Health Organization. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://covid19.who.int/.
2 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, October 7). Covid-19: Who’s at higher risk of serious symptoms? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-who-is-at-risk/art-20483301.
3 Coronavirus and COPD. University of Maryland Medical System. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.umms.org/coronavirus/what-to-know/managing-medical-conditions/conditions/copd.
4 Coronavirus and heart disease. University of Maryland Medical System. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.umms.org/coronavirus/what-to-know/managing-medical-conditions/conditions/heart.
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). People with certain medical conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html#MedicalConditionsAdults.
6 Sheffield, J. (n.d.). Coronavirus and pregnancy: What you should know. Johns Hopkins Medicine, based in Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-covid-19-what-pregnant-women-need-to-know.
7Coronavirus and diabetes. University of Maryland Medical System. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.umms.org/coronavirus/what-to-know/managing-medical-conditions/conditions/diabetes.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Coronavirus. World Health Organization. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1.