10 common health conditions that may increase risk of death from the coronavirus, including diabetes and heart disease

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  • According to a report on patient characteristics from Italy’s National Institute of Health released on March 17, 99% of COVID-19 patients who have died in the country had at least one preexisting condition.
  • Nearly 50% of the patients who died had three preexisting conditions.
  • Here’s what we know about how much various conditions affect the coronavirus’ severity.
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Case studies on patients who have contracted the new coronavirus have found that older patients and people with preexisting health conditions more commonly develop severe symptoms.

According to a report on patient characteristics from Italy’s National Institute of Health released on March 17, 99% of COVID-19 patients who have died in the country had at least one preexisting condition.

Different preexisting conditions – including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease – were found at varying rates among the patients who have died.

Here’s what we know about how various health issues may affect COVID-19.


In Italy, 76.1% of patients who died from COVID-19 had hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Joe Raedle/Getty

Nearly half of all Americans have some level of high blood pressure, meaning they may be more susceptible to some of the more dangerous effects of the coronavirus.

While experts aren’t confident about why people with poor cardiovascular health are at a higher risk of dying from the virus, doctors believe that the strain COVID-19 puts on the lungs may burden the heart as well.

People with heart issues may also have weaker immune systems, and the virus could have a negative effect on those with plaque in their arteries, according to the American Heart Association.


One-third of COVID-19 patients who died in Italy had heart disease.

Any kind of cardiovascular condition can leave a patient more susceptible to severe disease from the virus.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association urge patients with any heart condition to take precautions similar to all Americans: Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, disinfect high-touch surfaces, stay home if and when possible, and keep up to date on vaccinations, including one for the flu.


About one-quarter of people who died from the coronavirus in Italy had atrial fibrillation.

Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/ Getty Images

At least 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. It’s “a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications,” according to AHA.


Diabetes was the second most common condition among COVID-19 patients who died: 35.5% had the illness.

Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Tom Hanks, who tested positive for COVID-19 along with his wife, Rita Wilson, has Type 2 diabetes.

The condition may make COVID-19 worse because some viruses thrive on higher blood glucose levels, and people with diabetes also have compromised immune systems, according to Health.com.


Of those who died in Italy, 20.3% had active cancer in the past five years.

Reuters

Cancer and its treatments can impair the respiratory system and render a person immunocompromised.


The study found that 18% of people who died had chronic kidney disease.

Radu Sigheti/ReutersA nurse prepares a dialysis machine.

The National Kidney Foundation recommends that patients with kidney disease follow the same advice as the general population: Stay home when possible, be diligent about handwashing and sanitizing surfaces, and make sure you have enough necessary medical supplies.

Dialysis patients should not miss their treatments, and those who feel sick should alert a member of their healthcare team.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — or lung diseases such as chronic emphysema and bronchitis — was present in 13.2% of the people who died.

Fengxiang Song et al.A CT scan of the lungs of a patient with the coronavirus.

People with lung diseases like emphysema or bronchitis have lungs that are weaker when trying to fight off the respiratory infection.

When COVID-19 – the disease caused by the new coronavirus – travels through the body, it can attack the lungs.

The infection causes inflammation in the lungs’ lining and irritation in the nerves around them. The virus can also cause inflammation in the air sacs at the bottom of lungs. That can lead to pneumonia – when the lungs fill up with fluid.

Inflamed air sacs also prevent lungs from getting enough oxygen into the bloodstream and removing the byproduct carbon dioxide,The Guardian reported, citing John Wilson, a respiratory physician. Such inflammation can cause vital organ failure and be fatal.


People who previously had a stroke made up 9.6% of COVID-19 patients who died in Italy.

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According to the Stroke Association, a stroke itself doesn’t put a survivor in immediate danger of the coronavirus. However, many of those who experience strokes fall into other at-risk categories.

“You’re at greater risk of complications if you are an older person, or have a health condition like diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease or chronic kidney disease,” the Stroke Association wrote in a statement. “Having a suppressed immune system or being on some treatments like steroids and chemotherapy may also make you more at risk.”


In Italy, 6.8% of COVID-19 patients who died had dementia.

Associated Press

It’s likely dementia itself doesn’t increase the risk of COVID-19 or severe symptoms, but rather characteristics of people with the condition, like being older or forgetting to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, may affect the condition’s trajectory.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that caregivers of people with dementia take extra steps to make sure their loved ones stay safe. For example, post reminders about handwashing around the house and try to get an advance supply of important medications.


Chronic liver disease was the 10th most common underlying condition among COVID-19 patients who died.

APA piece of healthy liver before being transplanted.

In Italy, 3.1% of patients who died from COVID-19 had the disease.

It’s unclear how exactly COVID-19 affects the liver, but even people with healthy organs may be at risk for liver injury from the virus, according to The Hospitalist.

People with liver transplants who are on immunosuppressing medications may be at great risk but should talk to their doctors before changing or stopping any drug regimen, according to the UK’s Liver Trust.

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