COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) causes a diverse array of symptoms in patients. Apart from the upper and lower respiratory tract, the coronavirus can also affect the heart, gastrointestinal and nervous systems.
A majority of the people who test positive for COVID-19 will only develop flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever. Most patients will experience mild to moderate illness and recover at home with proper medication and care.
However, certain factors, including age and underlying health conditions, increase an individual’s risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. They could experience one or more of the following complications:
- Need for hospitalization
- Require intensive care or ventilation
This blog will delve deeper into the factors that increase an individual’s risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19. Also, we will outline a few useful preventive measures for different high-risk groups. Let us get started.
Older adults are more likely to need hospitalization or ventilation due to COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of COVID-related deaths in the 65+ age group is 80 times higher than that in the 18 to 29 age group.
It is understandable considering that older people have a plethora of underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension. Moreover, the elasticity of lung tissues decreases with age, thus limiting an individual’s ability to fight respiratory infections.
The immune system also becomes weaker as a person ages, making them susceptible to serious infections. Additionally, age increases the human body’s likelihood of experiencing intense inflammation.
All these factors indicate that older adults are at a higher risk of falling severely ill due to COVID-19. As a ground rule, individuals aged 60 years and above should be particularly cautious about following hand and respiratory hygiene protocols.
Apart from old age, many other conditions increase the risk of serious COVID-19 complications among younger generations.
Weakened Immune System
A strong immune response is the first line of defense against infectious diseases, including COVID-19. That puts immunocompromised individuals at a higher risk of developing severe illness due to the novel coronavirus.
A weakened immune system could result from genetic disorders, such as common variable immune deficiency (CVID).
CVID is a condition in which the human immune system doesn’t produce enough antibodies. While studies are still being conducted to identify its precise causes, medical researchers believe it is the outcome of certain genetic abnormalities.
Common variable immune deficiency is characterized by frequent viral and bacterial infections. Other symptoms include:
- Digestive issues
- Chest congestion
- Tendon pain
Individuals with CVID must take all necessary precautions to avoid exposure to the novel coronavirus. Also, they should stay in constant touch with their primary care provider to continue with their CVID treatment plan.
Apart from CVID, patients can develop immunodeficiency due to other conditions like HIV/AIDS. Prolonged use of steroids and immunosuppressant drugs also weaken the immune system.
Both type 1 and type 2 increase a patient’s risk of experiencing a serious illness due to COVID-19. It is primarily because elevated blood sugar levels create an environment for viruses to thrive in the human body. Also, long-term diabetes jeopardizes the immune response and makes an individual more susceptible to infections.
COVID-19 predominantly affects the respiratory system. Therefore, any illness that damages the lungs and airways increases the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms and complications.
The following lung-related diseases comprise high-risk groups for COVID-19:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) – It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Pulmonary fibrosis – It causes damage or scarring of the lung tissue.
- Cystic fibrosis – It can lead to frequent lung infections.
- Pulmonary embolism – It results in the formation of blood clots in the lungs.
- Pulmonary hypertension – The condition is characterized by elevated blood pressure in the lungs.
- Moderate to severe asthma – It could be aggravated due to environmental factors, such as pollen and dust.
People with cardiovascular disorders, such as congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease, are likely to experience complications from COVID-19.
While COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, there have been several cases of patients developing blood clots or getting heart attacks after testing positive for the disease. It could be because a weakened respiratory system causes excess strain on the heart muscles.
This, in turn, makes people with pre-existing heart ailments susceptible to serious complications.
Cancer patients are one of the groups with the highest risk of experiencing serious illness and complications from COVID-19. These individuals have a weakened immune response due to treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Also, certain types of cancer can cause changes in the cell structure, further jeopardizing the immune system. It makes individuals with cancer more vulnerable to infections.
Apart from the conditions listed above, the following ailments increase the risk of COVID-19 complications:
- Blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia
- Chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, etc.
- Chronic kidney ailments
- Mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression
- Neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, etc.
- Down syndrome
Additionally, people who are overweight or obese are also susceptible to severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Protective Measures For High-Risk Groups
First things first – patients should focus on keeping any underlying health conditions in check. They should talk to their doctors to outline a risk-free treatment plan that utilizes virtual appointments and other digital tools to minimize in-person hospital visits.
Also, they should consider enlisting the help of friends and family members to fetch groceries, medication and other supplies. The idea is to avoid crowded places, such as supermarkets.
Similarly, they should avoid direct contact with too many unknown people. It is a good idea to avoid gatherings in enclosed spaces. Lastly, hand hygiene and masking protocols should be strictly adhered to.
Individuals with underlying health conditions, such as cancer, heart ailments, diabetes, etc., have a higher risk of developing complications due to COVID-19. Similarly, immune system disorders, such as CVID, compromise the body’s ability to fight infections. These individuals should be extremely cautious about preventing exposure to the novel coronavirus.