Are people with underlying conditions at higher risk for COVID-19 complications and death?

Clinical Symptoms

Q: People with underlying conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes seem to be at higher risk for complications and death from COVID-19. Can you tell me more about this? Is there anything I can do to minimize the chance of a severe illness if I become infected?

A. This is a very important question because the CDC estimates that just under HALF of all Americans (~108 million people) have hypertension and 10.5% (34.2 million people) have diabetes. And sadly, although these were once considered diseases of older age, epidemiologists are findings that Americans are now developing these conditions at much younger ages, even as early as adolescence.

CDC Blood Pressure Info

CDC Diabetes Info

Studies from the CDC and others show that although having an underlying health condition doesn’t increase your chance of catching COVID-19, people with one or more of these conditions are at a higher risk for severe illness, hospitalization and death. Even young people seem to be at higher risk for worse disease if they have these chronic conditions, which is concerning given how many younger Americans are now burdened by hypertension and diabetes.

This article illustrates a map where U.S residents are at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness based on the proportion of residents with the following conditions: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and chronic lung disease. The hope is that this will allow high-risk communities throughout the U.S. to prepare for future outbreaks.
So this sounds like a lot of bad news. Is there any good news???

A small number of studies show that people with well-managed chronic conditions, especially hypertension and diabetes, may be able to reduce their risk of complications and poor outcomes from COVID-19 than if disease was poorly managed. Although research is still ongoing to determine if this holds true in other studies and for other conditions, these results at least suggest that having an underlying condition doesn’t have to mean a death sentence.

Regardless, the Nerdy Girls recognize how hard it is to manage chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes even in the BEST of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic! The key strategies for management of many chronic diseases– medication adherence, healthy diet, and physical activity – depend not just on individual will, but on factors like access to care, availability/affordability of healthy food, and safe spaces and time to be active.
In the meantime, the following are some resources to help people with hypertension and diabetes manage their conditions and to prepare for the possibility of becoming infected:

Blood Pressure


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