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12 Factors That Put You At "Severe Risk" For COVID-19

Discover if you have a more "severe risk" for complications than others.

For many people, catching the coronavirus isn't life-threatening. But others can develop serious complications. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, it can hit some people quite powerfully, and turn a bad health situation into something worse. Read on to discover if you're at "severe risk" with this advice from doctors and the CDC, so you can better protect yourself and those around you.

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You Are Severely Obese

Doctor measuring obese man waist body fat. Obesity and weight loss

The CDC says you're at high risk if you have a body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher. A new study of New York coronavirus patients found the most common comorbidities were "hypertension, obesity, and diabetes," with obesity afflicting 41.7% of the patients studied. "Obesity decreases lung expansion," explains Frank Civitarese D.O., President, Preferred Primary Care Physicians. "This makes patients more susceptible to upper respiratory infections." 


You Have a Serious Heart Condition

Man With Heart Attack

"COVID-19, like other viral illnesses such as the flu, can damage the respiratory system and make it harder for your heart to work," says Ari Bernstein MD, Fruit Street Health and CovidMD Advisor. "For people with heart failure and other serious heart conditions, this can lead to a worsening of COVID-19 symptoms."


You Have Chronic Lung Disease or Moderate to Severe Asthma

Doctor examining chest x-ray film of patient at hospital

"If someone has pre-existing asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis or other lung conditions, their lung reserve and function may already be poor," says Dr. Lili Barsky. "Thus, they may have an increased need for supplemental oxygenation and/or intubation or need for more intensive monitoring and respiratory support."


You Have Diabetes

Woman checking blood sugar level while sitting on bench

"The virus and other organisms thrive in high-sugar environments, such as that which can be provided in the blood of a diabetic," says Dr. Barsky. "Thus, diabetics are more prone to severe, sometimes raging infections."


You Have a History of Abnormal Blood Clotting

blood clot

"Another recent study reports an increased propensity towards blood clotting in COVID 19," says Leann Poston, MD, a physician with Invigor Medical in New York. "Those with clotting problems may be at increased risk for developing blood clots with infection."


You're a Smoker

Hand stubbed out cigarette in a transparent ashtray on wooden table

"Smokers have a higher risk for the development of lung infections, have more risk for underlying lung damage, and a greater chance for cardiovascular diseases," says Dr. Christine Traxler. "That all means a higher chance of having a severe COVID-19 infection and a poor outcome of their infection."


You Are Immunocompromised

Mid adult female nurse writing on clipboard while looking at patient in hospital

Says the CDC: "Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications"

"Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are often treated with immunosuppressant drugs that suppress the immune response, increasing the risk of having any type of severe infection," says Dr. Traxler. 


You're Being Treated for Cancer

woman in bed suffering from cancer

"Cancer chemotherapy drugs increase the susceptibility of the patient to getting any type of infection because of the marked reduction in immune-fighting cells that happens when these drugs are taken," says Dr. Traxler. "This increases the risk for a severe COVID-19 infection."


You're Over 65

Pensive frowning senior woman reading online book on tablet at home

"Older people have a higher incidence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases," says Dr. Dimitar Marinov. "Our overall lung compliance can start to decrease as we get older which makes it more difficult for us if we get an infection that affects the lungs," says Dr. Johnny Franco. 

"There also may be other factors such as the gradual decline of the immune system which place them at higher risk," says Robert Stone, M.D., Medical Director CPC+ with Central Ohio Primary Care Physicians


You Live in a Nursing Home or Long-Term Care Facility

Doctor and senior man wearing facemasks during coronavirus and flu outbreak

The CDC lists living in a nursing home or long-term care facility as putting you at high risk, and indeed, the virus is rampaging through these communities in certain cities.


You Have Chronic Kidney Disease Undergoing Dialysis

dialysis system patient hospital

"Older adults and people with kidney disease or other severe chronic medical conditions seem to be at higher risk for more serious coronavirus illness," reports the National Kidney Foundation. "Because of this increased risk for kidney patients, it is especially important for you to take action to reduce your risk of exposure."


You Have Liver Disease

doctors appointment physician shows to patient shape of liver with focus on hand with organ

A compromised liver can mean trouble if you get coronavirus. The CDC lists it as a "severe risk" factor.


 How to Protect Yourself

Mid section of senior man washing hands in the kitchen

If you have any of the conditions in this article follow this advice compiled by the National Kidney Foundation and the CDC:

Stay home if you feel sick or have any symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills. Important note:  If you are on dialysis, you should NOT miss your treatments. Contact your clinic if you feel sick or have any concerns.

  • Avoid others who are sick. Limiting face-to-face contact with others as much as possible.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash can. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If you don't have soap and water, use hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
  • Clean very often the things that get touched a lot, like door handles
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your nose and mouth.
  • Wear a facemask if your healthcare team or someone from the public health office says you should.

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 100 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Emilia Paluszek
Emilia specializes in human biology and psychology at the University at Albany. Read more about Emilia