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:
- Ages 65 years and older
- Those living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
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
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease and those undergoing dialysis
- Liver disease
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.
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