Study: Certain pre-existing conditions can double, triple risk of COVID-19 death

Conditions that can heighten risk of death include heart failure, diabetes and stroke

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said for months that people with pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. However, a study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE reveals that certain pre-existing conditions can mean people who have them are up to three times more at risk of death resulting from COVID-19.

Penn State College of Medicine researchers’ findings from a large, international study of COVID-19 patients shows several common conditions can increase a patient’s risk of dying from the virus. They include cancer, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.

A patient’s risk of dying from COVID-19 may double if they have cardiovascular disease while other pre-existing conditions may increase a COVID-19 patient’s death risk by one-and-a-half to three times.

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“This study suggests that these chronic conditions are not just common in patients with COVID-19, but their presence is a warning sign to a higher risk of death,” said Dr. Paddy Ssentongo, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the College of Medicine and research assistant professor in Penn State’s Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, in a news release. “There is a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease and hypertension around the world and in particular, the U.S. With the persistence of COVID-19 in the U.S., this connection becomes crucially important.”

To determine which chronic conditions made hospitalized patients at risk of dying from COVID-19, they examined 11 co-existing conditions for which there is a risk of severe disease and death among COVID-19 patients. Among them were diabetes, cancer, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, stroke, congestive heart failure, HIV/AIDS and chronic liver disease.

Researchers analyzed data from over 65,000 patients from 25 global studies involving patients from Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. On average, patients in the chosen studies were 61-years-old.

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When conducting a methodical evaluation and meta-analysis of studies published from December 2019 through early July 2020, researchers found that some pre-existing health conditions affected the rate of survival more than others.

The study showed that patients with diabetes and cancer are 1.5 times more likely to die compared to hospitalized COVID-19 patients without pre-existing conditions. Cardiovascular disease, hypertension and congestive heart failure patients were twice as likely to die compared to COVID-19 patients without pre-existing conditions. While chronic kidney disease patients had triple the risk of COVID-19 death compared to people with no pre-existing conditions.

“Although the health care community has circulated anecdotal information about the impact of these risk factors in COVID-19 mortality, our systematic review and meta-analysis is the most comprehensive to date that attempts to quantify the risk,” said Vernon Chinchilli, distinguished professor and chair of public health sciences, and senior author of this research. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues through 2020 and likely into 2021, we expect that other researchers will build on our work.”

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More research is needed to completely understand health risks and associations — especially when it comes to understanding how race and ethnicity effect COVID-19 survival rates. Still, these findings can help inform global prevention and treatment strategies, according to Ssentongo.