Now More Than Ever, Managing Chronic Conditions is the Key to Staying Healthy!
Amanda Bektas, Pharm.D.
By now you have probably seen the words “underlying health conditions” splashed across your news feeds hundreds of times. “Persons with underlying health conditions at higher risk for severe COVID-19!” or some version of this statement.
According to data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) people of any age with these conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
- Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
As more data is collected, we continue to learn more about what factors increase our risk. Other people who might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include those with:
- Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
- Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
- Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
- Liver disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
- Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
- Type 1 diabetes mellitus
Hopefully you have also seen some of the public information campaigns from the CDC, WHO (World Health Organization), or your local government or health department with basic information about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus and where to go for more information.
“But what about managing my health conditions?” many of us are asking. If having diabetes or high blood pressure or a heart condition can increase my risk for severe illness if I do get COVID-19, what else can I do to keep myself healthy? Luckily, there ARE SOME THINGS YOU CAN DO to manage your chronic health conditions during this pandemic which can reduce your risk of needing emergency care or further lowering your body’s defense systems.
- Make sure all your treatments are up to date and that you do not run out of any medical supplies, including MEDICATIONS. This means keeping at least a 30-day supply on hand and requesting refills well before you run out. If you don’t already keep an updated medication list in your home, consider using a template like the one below. You may also want to make a copy for a loved one to access in case of a health emergency.
- Do not skip regular appointments with your doctor or other providers due to concerns about COVID-19. CALL your providers office to find out what extra precautions they are taking and to see if a virtual appointment might work for you. It can be dangerous to skip routine monitoring appointments for some health conditions. These visits are an important opportunity to talk to your healthcare team about your health concerns!
- If you have questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist. Which over the counter cough and cold medicines are safe for me to take with my health conditions and prescription medications? What can I do if my medications are too expensive for me? Do I have all the vaccinations I need to protect myself and my loved ones from communicable diseases? Your pharmacist is a trusted member of your healthcare team and a wealth of information on a wide range of topics regarding your health and wellbeing. If your health plan includes access to a medication therapy management appointment with a pharmacist and you have not set one up, you may be missing an opportunity to get the most benefit from your medications.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle and support your friends and loved ones to do the same.
- keeping a regular sleep schedule and making sure you get enough rest;
- eating a healthy diet low in processed or packaged foods that are typically higher in sugar, salt, and fat and lower in nutrients than “whole foods” like fruits, vegetables, lean meat, grains, etc;
- getting activity on a regular basis, daily if you are able, and getting fresh air and sunshine whenever possible;
- maintaining healthy social interactions like calling friends or family members to check in, even if you cannot visit them in person, and asking how you can help.
And finally, reach out if you need help! During this pandemic, many of us are under additional stress and pressure whether due to changes in our financial, emotional, or physical well-being. There are resources available to help and reaching out to our existing support system and healthcare team is one way to get access to those resources.
If you or a loved one have one of the underlying health conditions above, and develop symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath, you should immediately contact your health care provider.