7 Conditions That Increase Your Risk for Severe COVID-19

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Woman wearing a mask at a hospital
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COVID-19 is a risk for everyone, but some people are in much greater danger than others.

Those who are older are at the greatest risk for severe illness and death from the disease caused by the coronavirus. In fact, 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in people 65 and older, and 95% of those who have died have been at least 50 years old.

But pre-existing health conditions also significantly boost the odds of getting a severe form of the disease. In fact, last summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 94% of people in the U.S. whose death certificates mentioned COVID-19 had other health conditions listed as well.

Following are pre-existing conditions that greatly increase your odds of severe illness — or worse — if you are infected with the coronavirus.

Kidney disease requiring long-term dialysis

Kidney dialysis patient
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If kidney issues require you to be on long-term dialysis, you are more than five times likelier to get COVID-19 — and almost four times as likely to die from it — than others, according to a study published this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The researchers found that dialysis patients tend to share characteristics that increase their risk of COVID-19 and related complications. They are more likely to:

  • Be older
  • Have underlying conditions and different degrees of immunosuppression
  • Live in long-term care facilities

A separate recent analysis by the U.S. federal government found that chronic kidney disease is the third-most common chronic health condition among Medicare beneficiaries who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Nearly half of these seniors have the disease, as we reported in “12 Diseases That Are Common in Seniors Who Get COVID-19.”


Man in the hospital coughing
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If you have been diagnosed with pneumonia in the past, you may face a higher risk of getting severely ill, or even dying, from COVID-19, according to Harvard University research published this month.

In fact, researchers found that prior pneumonia illness was the second-greatest overall risk factor for death from COVID-19 — second only to age.

The researchers speculate that a prior case of pneumonia may indicate that you have an underlying chronic lung disease that has gone undiagnosed.


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People with diabetes — either Type 1 or Type 2 — who develop COVID-19 are three times as likely to have a severe case or to require hospitalization as people without diabetes who get the disease, according to research published in December by the American Diabetes Association.

The increased risk prompted the researchers to urge policymakers to prioritize people with these conditions for COVID-19 vaccination.

A separate study published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that one-third of in-hospital COVID-19 deaths in the United Kingdom occurred in people with diabetes.


Female doctor looking at X-ray or other imaging test
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People with cancer have a significantly increased risk for both contracting COVID-19 and having worse outcomes from it. This is especially true of African-American patients, according to research published in December in the medical journal JAMA Oncology.

In particular, patients diagnosed with cancer within the last year were found to be at significantly higher risk for contracting COVID-19. The risk association was highest for those with:

  • Leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Lung cancer

Patients diagnosed with both cancer and COVID-19 had higher hospitalization rates (about 47%) and death rates (15%) than those diagnosed with COVID-19 but not cancer (hospitalization rate of 24%, death rate of 5%).

The CDC notes that at this time, it is not known whether a past bout with cancer — as opposed to a current diagnosis — increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Sickle cell disease

Female patient and doctor in the hospital
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Patients with the inherited blood disorder sickle cell disease were more likely to have poor outcomes after contracting COVID-19, according to researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the CDC.

Of 178 COVID-19-positive patients with sickle cell disease who were studied:

  • 122 (69%) patients were hospitalized during their COVID-19 illness
  • 19 (11%) were admitted to the intensive care unit
  • 13 (7%) died

Researchers noted that the patients had an average age of 28.6 years, which made the findings particularly striking.

Sickle cell disease is most common among African-Americans, affecting an estimated 1 in 365.

Heart disease and cardiovascular issues

Man getting heart checked
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A researcher from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who reviewed the records of nearly 20,000 patients found that cardiovascular disease — or risk factors for it — in COVID-19 patients dramatically increased their risk of dying in the hospital.

Dr. Ann Marie Navar found that in-hospital mortality rates were:

  • 28.5% for patients with hypertension
  • 28.6% for those with diabetes
  • 25.5% for those with coronary artery disease
  • 38.4% for those with heart failure

The risk of death was especially high for older men who were not white.


Obese man
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People who are severely obese are at greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than people with conditions such as diabetes or hypertension, according to Kaiser Permanente researchers. This increased risk is particularly pronounced in obese men and younger patients who contract COVID-19.

The risk of death more than doubles for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 to 44, and nearly doubles again for those with a BMI of 45, compared with people with a normal BMI of 18.5 to 24.

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