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The COVID-19 Risk Factor You Can Control

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R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE - Blogs
By R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACCBoard-certified cardiologistMay 26, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

If you are concerned about your risk from COVID-19, then you should know that there may be significant opportunities to lower your risk beyond hand washing and social distancing.

COVID-19 is stabilizing or decreasing in many parts of the world, and this is good news. However, many experts predict the pandemic is far from over, and the worse may be yet to come. The concern is there may be further surges in COVID-19 with the world starting to open. And healthcare organizations are worried that a flood of COVID-19 patients, in addition to those with seasonal flu this fall and winter, may overwhelm their limited resources and prevent them from providing care to all who need it.

These uncertainties are of concern to me and many of my patients. There is so much that is not in our control – but, it’s important to remember that there is also much that is within our control.

Our knowledge about COVID-19 grows daily, and it has become clear that certain people are at particularly high risk from COVID-19. It was recognized early in the pandemic that those over 65 years of age are a high-risk group. And it is becoming increasingly apparent that those who are not in good health, such as those with unhealthy weight, diabetes, or heart disease, are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

For example, one database has shown that less than 1% of those who have died from COVID-19 were previously healthy and did not have conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, immunodeficiency, lung, heart, liver, or kidney disease.

Besides prior health issues, being overweight also may be a powerful predictor of risk from COVID-19. One study showed that those with COVID-19 and a body mass index higher than 35 Kg/m2 were over seven times more likely to need to be on a ventilator. And death rates for those needing a ventilator with COVID-19 have been reported to be 80% or more.

Here is why this information is so important to all of us. This virus attacks those who are the most vulnerable, and there is ample opportunity to make yourself less vulnerable.

If you are fortunate enough to be healthy, it is vitally important to stay that way. And the best ways to stay healthy are to be active, eat nutritious food in proper amounts, keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar numbers in the optimal range, and avoid toxins like smoking and excess alcohol.

What if you already have health issues? Then these healthful actions are likely even more critical.

Much has been written about how stay at home orders have taken a toll on our health. During this time of high stress and disruption of routines, it is a challenge to eat well and to stay active. Many people are reporting weight gain, and phrases such as the “Quarantine 15” (pounds gained) have become popular.

If you are one of us whose healthy habits have slipped during these challenging times, this a reminder and further incentive to develop the daily habits that lead to better health.

Many of us are facing financial and social stress in addition to concerns about COVID-19. I understand that adding worries about your health may seem like too much. However, healthy habits such as physical activity, getting adequate sleep, and practicing stress management techniques can be incredibly effective ways to manage the anxiety and depression that can come with challenging times.

Take some time to think about what would be most beneficial for you and your health – is it being more active, eating better quality food, getting more sleep, or a telemedicine visit with your physician? Any of these actions, or many others, may provide critically important short- and long-term benefits for how you feel, the quality of your life, and your health.

Until we have an effective and safe vaccine, it will be important to continue to minimize your risk of getting COVID-19 by washing your hands frequently and practicing social distancing guidelines. And, as stay at home orders are being lifted, practicing healthy habits to keep your body strong may be just as important.

Stay well.



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About the Author
R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC

R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE, is a board-certified cardiologist, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Banner – University Medicine Heart Institute, and associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. He has written more than 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals and regularly speaks nationally and internationally at medical meetings, primarily on the prevention of heart disease.

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