COVID-19 risk factors: a complete list

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The virus that causes COVID-19 has undergone many mutations and variants. Some are more easily transmitted than others and some can lead to more serious illnesses. But despite all these mutations, public health experts have identified a number of risk factors for COVID-19. These risk factors seem to increase your risk of serious illness, hospitalization or even death.

Advanced age

As you age, your immune system, like many other bodily systems, begins to lose its effectiveness. Your immune system may take longer to react or may not create as strong a response as before. You may also be affected by an autoimmune disease.

The age at which these changes occur varies. But a 2022 study suggests that people over 50 years old have an increased risk of severe COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 81 percent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people over the age of 65.

Weakened immune system

Your immune system is a gatekeeper when it comes to protecting you against infections. This system is responsible for recognizing and protecting against bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances that enter your body.

Your immune system may be naturally weakened due to disease or another condition, or medically weakened by some type of therapy. If so, it may not be able to recognize or destroy the virus that causes COVID-19.

Some conditions or medications that can contribute to a weakened immune system and increase your risk of severe COVID-19 include:

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body goes through many changes. Every system in your body, including your immune system, is affected in some way by pregnancy. According to CDCpeople who are pregnant or have been pregnant within the last 6 weeks are at increased risk of more severe illness from COVID-19.

Autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system does not work properly. With most autoimmune diseases, your body attacks its own cells or tissues.

People with autoimmune diseases may lose some of the immune system’s protection against the disease itself. But in many cases, treatments for these conditions can also reduce protections. Many autoimmune diseases are treated with drugs that weaken the immune system to reduce its attacks on your own body.

Here are examples of autoimmune diseases that can increase your risk of severe COVID-19:

However, not all autoimmune systems present the same level of risk. Celiac disease, for example, has not been linked to an increased risk of severe COVID-19. Your risk of severe COVID-19 depends on your condition and the treatment you receive.

Blood disorders

Your blood is a major player in your immune function. Blood carries white blood cells and other immune cells that travel through your body to detect and fight infections.

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), COVID-19 may increase the risk of blood clots and other complications. People with blood clotting disorders may be at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Some of these conditions include:

Cancer

Cancer is the general name for a number of conditions where rapidly growing cancerous cells take over healthy cells and tissues. When this happens, the cancer cells prevent the affected part of the body from performing its usual function, causing a cascade of symptoms.

Some cancers, like leukemia, can directly weaken your immune system and increase your risk of severe COVID-19. Other cancers also typically affect the immune system, either through direct damage or through treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can effectively kill many types of cancer cells, but they also usually destroy immune cells in the process.

Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that reduces the function of your pancreas, the organ that helps manage your blood sugar by producing insulin. Type 2 diabetes is acquired, often through lifestyle factors such as diet.

Both of these conditions have been found to increase the risk of severe COVID-19. But according to a 2021 study, type 1 diabetes may pose the highest risk.

Disabled

There are several reasons why people with certain physical or developmental disabilities may also be at increased risk of developing a severe course of COVID-19. According to CDC, people with disabilities may be prone to other chronic conditions that increase their risk. They can also live in groups, where the risk of exposure is higher.

Having certain disabilities are known to put you at particular risk of severe COVID-19, including:

heart disease

People with heart and cardiovascular disease are particularly at risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. The virus itself takes a heavy toll on cardiovascular health. Many people develop cardiovascular complications after COVID-19, so having a weakened system to begin with sets the stage for more serious disease.

Here are examples of heart or cardiovascular conditions that can increase your risk of severe COVID-19:

Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, has been found in more people with severe COVID-19, but the data isn’t entirely clear on why. People with hypertension often have other conditions that pose their own increased risk for severe COVID-19, such as heart disease and obesity.

High blood pressure can also increase your risk of stroke. And blood clotting problems in people with COVID-19 can further increase that risk.

kidney disease

According to the National Kidney Foundation, COVID-19 increases your risk of kidney damage, either from the virus itself or from treatment. If you had chronic kidney disease or another kidney disorder before COVID-19, it may increase your risk of developing kidney damage and other serious complications.

liver disease

Your liver has many functions, including:

  • produce blood cells and hormones
  • regulation of cholesterol and fat metabolism
  • filter waste from your body

A study 2021 suggests that COVID-19 can damage your liver, either directly or through treatment drugs.

People with the following liver conditions may be at particular risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19:

lung diseases

Of all the effects of COVID-19 on your body, its effect on your lungs is perhaps the most profound. COVID-19 typically leads to a type of pneumonia, where mucus coats the surfaces of your lungs. These surfaces help move air in and out of your bloodstream.

According to the American Lung Association, if you have a lung condition that makes it harder to breathe, it may be that much harder for your lungs to withstand the stress of COVID-19. The following are examples of such conditions:

Mental health problems

Mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia may play a role in the development of more severe COVID-19. While these conditions themselves don’t really pose a higher risk of infection, people with mental health conditions often have other physical health issues that can increase their risk of serious infection.

People with mental disorders are often likely to have difficulty finding or receiving adequate medical care. They may also have difficulty carrying out their necessary daily health activities.

Neurological conditions

Neurological disorders often interfere with a person’s ability to care for themselves. This can lead to a higher risk of infection. Living in group homes or skilled care facilities also puts people with neurological conditions at higher risk.

The following are examples of such conditions that can increase risk:

Obesity or overweight

Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19, as can lack of physical activity. According to CDCyour risk of serious illness from COVID-19 increases with your body mass index (BMI).

Transplantation

People who have had organ or tissue transplants are at particularly high risk of getting all types of infections, including the virus that causes COVID-19, and of becoming seriously ill.

After a transplant, you will need to take medication for the rest of your life. These drugs prevent your body from rejecting the transplanted tissue. They suppress your immune system to create a welcoming environment for transplanted tissue, but they can also make it easier for infections to take hold.

Lifestyle factors

A number of lifestyle factors have been linked to more severe COVID-19. These behaviors can lead to health problems that are known risk factors. Some activities associated with the highest risk of severe COVID-19 are:

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