Underlying Conditions Explained and How to Know if You Have One

underlying conditions

Underlying conditions, it’s a term you hear a lot lately. But what does this term mean and why is it important relating to COVID-19? We asked Dr. Jayson Morgan, MD, cardiologist at the Renown Institute for Heart and Vascular Health to explain.  To keep you healthy, he also suggests the best ways to avoid getting an underlying condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) older adults and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

Underlying Conditions – What Are They?

“Underlying conditions are health problems that a person has which can predispose them to getting a more severe illness from COVID-19 or other respiratory infections,” Morgan explains. “Normally a person’s immune system is equipped to handle most viruses, like the annual flu or the common cold, with no permanent damage or serious risk of dying from the virus.”

However when your heart, lungs or kidneys are struggling due to disease, your body’s immune system may not be able to keep up. The virus then has a higher risk of causing a more severe infection requiring hospitalization, or even death.

For example, this high-risk group includes:

Additionally, people of all ages with the following underlying medical conditions:

  • Chronic lung disease or asthma
  • Serious heart conditions
  • People with lowered immunity
    (For example, conditions including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplants, and long-term use of steroids can weaken your immunity) 
  • Severe obesity – body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease and those undergoing dialysis
  • Liver disease

RELATED: Have a (Healthy) Heart: Maintain Your Blood Pressure

How do I know if I have an underlying condition?

“All of the above underlying conditions can be diagnosed by your primary care physician, so maintaining a close relationship with them is important even during times of crisis,” states Dr. Morgan.

“Renown primary care and specialty clinic offices are offering telemedicine visits, even for new patients in most cases. So please schedule an appointment if you are worried you may have an underlying condition,” he recommends.

“Most screening tests are in the form of blood tests (to check for diabetes, high cholesterol, liver damage, or kidney damage). Some tests include ultrasound or CT scan imaging of certain organs to check for damage. The specifics can be discussed with your doctor,” Morgan adds.

Can underlying conditions be prevented?

Generally the answer is yes. Dr. Morgan clarifies, “Many of the underlying conditions mentioned above can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle to avoid permanent damage to your heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver.”

Specifically, he shares the most important ways to stay healthy including the following:

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Aerobic exercise – a great goal is to get in 30 minutes, 5 times a week
  • Decreasing meat and sugar intake – substituting these items with fresh vegetables and whole grains
  • Minimizing alcohol intake –  fewer than 7 drinks a week for women and fewer than 14 drinks a week for men

“Also important is getting appropriate cholesterol and blood pressure screening through your primary care physician’s office and staying up to date on your vaccines,” he adds.

Keep in mind, washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds can prevent the spread of  disease. Above all, a primary care doctor can help manage underlying conditions and discuss your health concerns.

RELATED: Natural Ways to Boost Your Immunity

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  1. My husband was in for open heart surgery at end of January 2020. The end of September 2019 my husband and myself were very sick. And together we went to urgent care. Very very sick. They really didn't know what we had. Took a while for us to feel better. Husband 66 years of age was tired for months after. As well as myself. Husband went to get things checked out. He is retiring soon and wanted to check on things before then. Found out that his mitral valve had a problem requiring surgery. I myself had Aofric Valve replacement surgery 9 years ago and I am checked annually. After my illness my Doctor had me checked 6 months earlier rather than 1 year. Determining that my heart now is showing calcification. Could we of had this Covid 19 and effected our hearts? Is there anyway we can see if we did have this or not? Thanks you.
    • The American Heart Association has a helpline for COVID-19 1-800-242-8721. Follow-up with your doctor for your specific concerns.
      • Cardiologist Dr. Jayson Morgan responds,"In brief, currently members of the community I believe can get antibody tests to check and see if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past. This should be through their primary care provider. COVID-19 can cause heart failure and reduced heart pumping function, but typically only in very severe cases. It can increase your risk of a heart attack during the acute infection, but there is not currently evidence it increases your risk after your symptoms have recovered. Calcium in the arteries or valves of the heart typically occur from inflammation (like COVID-19 infection) high cholesterol, diabetes, and potentially valvular disease. The risk factors for calcium progression can be controlled typically by use of a statin cholesterol medication."