As stay-at-home recommendations continue, it’s important to revisit why physical distancing matters. Not only does distancing help protect you — it protects those around you as well. We continue to learn more about the coronavirus every day. But one piece of information has remained constant: People living with chronic illnesses are at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19.
Here’s what you should know about chronic medical conditions and the coronavirus.
Chronic conditions increase the risk of severe illness from the coronavirus
Average adults infected with COVID-19 may experience only mild symptoms. For people living with a chronic disease, the new virus may lead to severe illness and even death because they have compromised immunity from:
- The condition: A chronic disease may lower the body’s ability to fight off infection.
- Treatments: Medications used to treat a chronic illness may weaken the immune system.
These chronic health conditions may put you at increased risk for COVID-19:
- Asthma: COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that could lead to an asthma attack or a serious illness.
- Cancer: Cancer may leave you vulnerable to COVID-19 by reducing organ or immune function or because the treatments may weaken your immune system.
- Diabetes: Diabetes-related health problems could make it harder for you to recover from COVID-19.
- Heart conditions: The new virus impacts the respiratory system and makes recovery harder by placing an added strain on your heart.
- Kidney disease: People on dialysis have weakened immune systems, making them more prone to severe illness from COVID-19.
- Liver disease: Medications used to treat COVID-19 can strain your liver, leaving your body less resilient.
- Lung disease: COVID-19 may trigger flare-ups that lead to severe illness.
- Obesity: Severe obesity increases your risk of breathing problems, particularly acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a COVID-19 complication.
Special tips for people with compromised immune systems
People who are living with a chronic illness should not stop taking any medications that may suppress the immune system. There are health risks associated with suddenly stopping medications, including condition flare-ups. Other tips include:
- Use telemedicine to keep doctor appointments. If you need a scheduled treatment, plan to receive it. Health systems have protocols in place to keep you safe.
- Stock up on refills of prescription medications. Check with your provider for delivery and pick-up options. Ensure you have at least a 2-week supply in case an outbreak occurs that leaves you homebound. Also stock up on grocery items and household supplies.
- Take the prescription for your condition exactly as prescribed. If you are uncertain, check with your doctor.
- Make sure vaccinations are up-to-date, particularly those that protect against influenza and pneumococcal disease.
- Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have and to make a care plan in the event you get sick. Call 911 if you experience emergency warning signs such as unresponsiveness, difficulty breathing, severe chest pain or pressure, lightheadedness or extreme disorientation.
- Protect your emotional health by taking steps to reduce the anxiety and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protective steps those with chronic health conditions should take
Your top priority should be to protect yourself. That starts with prevention:
- Thoroughly wash hands for 20 seconds. Alternatively, you can use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough since the new virus is spread by droplets.
- Cover your nose and mouth in public.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth; these are entry points for germs.
- Only leave your home for essential supplies and stay at least 6 feet from others to minimize contact.
- Use soap and water or a disinfectant wipe to clean groceries, packages, mobile devices and high-touch surfaces in your home.
Stay up to date with coronavirus information from UCLA Health. Our new Chatbot is available to answer your questions or link you with a provider.