Risk is the buzzword during the COVID-19 pandemic and when it comes to people with underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung diseases like asthma, the chance that they will die from the virus can be as much as 10 times the average person’s chances.

The American College of Cardiology, for example, estimates that 10.5 percent of people with heart disease will die from COVID-19. In people with underlying respiratory disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, that rate dips to 6.3 percent. Both compare with estimates of a 3 percent mortality rate in the general population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The reason, according to Dr. Waseem Chaudhry of the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute, is that people who have chronic illness do not have as much ability to fight viruses like COVID-19 as fully as a relatively healthy person. Research indicates that many viruses, including COVID-10, causes inflammation that may alter plaque that is built up in the arteries, changing it from stable to unstable and causing a cardiac event, he said. That can include blood clots, heart arrythmia, heart attack and stroke, he said.

In addition, a case report in the Feb. 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association examined 138 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in China and found that, of those who had no heart condition prior to contracting the virus, 17 percent developed arrhythmia and 7 percent developed acute cardiac injury as a result of the illness.

While healthcare officials are urging the entire population to take precautions against COVID-19, it is extra important for anyone with a co-existing condition. Try the following steps to help protect yourself:

  • Take your medications. Stay on track with any meds your providers and specialists have prescribed. They are designed to protect your body, including against the virus. With diseases like asthma, keeping it under control at all times is critical. There is no evidence that antihistamines or inhaled corticosteroids for asthma suppress the immune system, either.
  • Be alert for symptoms. This virus causes shortness of breath, fever and coughing. Be aware of any changes, including irregular heartbeat or chest pains, and call your provider if something is troubling. For people with COPD, the symptoms of COVID-10 infection could be similar to a typical COPD flare. Call your provider if you have questions.
  • Get your shots. You should get regular flu and pneumonia shots to protect your weakened immune system from season flu and other pathogens like COVID-19. Both seasonal flu and pneumonia can cause serious complications for anyone with coexisting conditions, including raising the risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Wash your hands. You’ve heard the mantra but it’s true – washing your hands helps protect against contamination. Sanitize high-touch areas – doorknobs, draw pulls, remote controls – and remember to wash after being out in public. Use soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If there’s no sink nearby, hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol content works.
  • Keep your hands away from your face. The eyes, mouth and nose are the body’s portals for germs. Don’t usher the germs in by touching them!
  • Dump the mask. You don’t need to wear a mask unless you have symptoms of COVID-19. If you’re feeling okay, it’s unnecessary.
  • Be prepared. To self-quarantine, which your provider might recommend, make sure to have enough supplies, including medication, for 14 days. Draft a plan and ask family members, friends and neighbors to help if you need anything.
  • Keep your distance. Avoid crowds and limit close contact with everyone. Six feet is recommended.

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