Our Definition of Chronic Condition Must Be Clear

As a physician, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the greater risks associated with COVID-19 for people with chronic conditions. And I’ve also been thinking about how many people may not realize they actually have a chronic condition.  For many people, their chronic health conditions are well managed, and don’t limit their day to day activities.  But, they may still be at increased risk of serious illness, if they are infected with COVID 19.

Let’s take a moment and consider whether you or a loved one might be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Just about everyone knows that diabetes, COPD, asthma, and cardiovascular disease fall in the category of “chronic.” But have you considered that hypertension (high blood pressure) is also a chronic disease? If you have any of these conditions, make sure you’re staying home and limiting your contact to others.
  • Are you or a family member taking medications? Some medications interfere with your body’s ability to mount an immune response to infectious agents, like COVID 19. Don’t stop taking these medications, but do follow the CDC guidelines for people more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19.
  • Many cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation, having received an organ or bone marrow transplant, or taking high doses of corticosteroids, and HIV or AIDS also increase risk of serious illness from COVID.
  • While this is a virus that starts with attacking the respiratory system, those with chronic liver problems and kidney problems may also develop more serious complications from a COVID 19 infection.
  • While it’s easy to think that only older Minnesotans have the chronic diseases that increase risk, we have seen a significant increase in chronic illnesses in younger people, in particular increases in diabetes and asthma.

You may not have a chronic condition at this time but certain behaviors will put you at a greater risk –  such as unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. However, this is not the time to judge yourself or others for these behaviors. Just remember that you should protect anyone with a chronic condition (or likely to develop one) by practicing  the recommended precautionary measures against infection.

It’s important that those with chronic conditions are protected by all of us, by adhering to social distancing and good hygiene practices.  But, it is also important to remember that social distancing is not social isolation.  Keep in contact, offer to make grocery store runs, pick up needed medications for your family and neighbors, if you are able.  For those of you with chronic conditions that increase your risk of serious illness, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  We are all in this together.

Stay Healthy,

Claire Neely, MD, FAAP

President & CEO,  ICSI