You’ve probably heard that many people who get COVID-19 have light symptoms or no symptoms at all. Others aren’t so lucky.
People with certain conditions are at a greater risk for bad problems when COVID-19 strikes. According to the CDC, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure increase the chances that a patient will have severe symptoms or need a machine to breathe, even if they are young.
Now research shows that having a combination of conditions that you may not be aware of could make things even worse. The study involved 287 mostly Black COVID-19 patients who were 61 years old, on average. About 80% already had high blood pressure, 65% were obese, 54% had diabetes, and 39% had low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
According to the data, more than 65% of the patients met the criteria for metabolic syndrome, which is defined as having at least 3 out of 5 of the following “almost” conditions. They “almost” had high blood pressure, “almost” had high blood sugar (known as pre-diabetes), they had excess fat around the waist and were “almost” obese, they had low “good” HDL cholesterol levels, and/or triglyceride levels (an especially harmful blood fat) that were “almost” high. People with the metabolic syndrome have a greater risk for heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
When the researchers separated these patients out and compared them to others, they found that the patients with metabolic syndrome were 3.4 times more likely to die from the virus compared to patients who just had diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure alone, the same study shows. The ones with metabolic syndrome were also much more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU), have severe breathing problems, or to be put on a ventilator, compared to those who didn’t have metabolic syndrome.
Why does having metabolic syndrome make things worse for COVID patients? Researchers believe it may have to do with inflammation. Recent data have shown that people with severe cases of COVID-19 have higher levels of inflammation markers, like high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, or hs-CRP, in the body.
People with metabolic syndrome tend to have slightly elevated levels of inflammation in their bodies all the time. Having long-lasting elevations in inflammation may make it easier for the virus to become deadly.
Know your numbers
Unfortunately, not everyone who has the metabolic syndrome knows it. That’s why it’s important to know your numbers.
If it’s been a while, schedule a doctor visit and make sure your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and fasting triglycerides are checked and that your waistline is measured. Then discuss your results with your doctor. To avoid metabolic syndrome, the American Heart Association notes:
- Your systolic blood pressure (top number) should be less than 130 mm Hg, and the diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) less than 85 mm Hg.
- Your fasting glucose (blood sugar) should be less than 100 mg/dL.
- Your “good” HDL cholesterol should be more than 40 mg/dL in men and more than 50 mg/dL in women.
- Your triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL.
- Your waist measures less than 40” for men and 35” for women. (Don’t cheat! Measure at the level of your hip bones and not where you wear your pants.)
Risk factors for metabolic syndrome include being overweight or obese (defined as 30 pounds overweight), inactivity, genetic factors, and getting older. While you can’t do anything about your age and genes, you can tackle excess weight and inactivity.
Try following a heart-healthy diet. Just adding more fruits and vegetables and eating less red meat is a good start. Learn more ways to eat well and lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol here.
To get moving, take several small walks throughout the day, climb the steps instead of riding the elevator, and park your car further away from the shopping center. Small bursts of activity add up. More tips here!
Finally ask your doctor about inflammation testing. These simple blood and urine tests can show if your body has high inflammation levels and whether you need help in calming it down. That’s important whether your concern is heart problems, diabetes, or a bad case of COVID-19.
The CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fneed-extra-precautions%2Fgroups-at-higher-risk.html
Xie J, et al. Metabolic syndrome and mortality among adult black patients in New Orleans. Diabetes Care. doi:10.2337/dc20-1714
Chen G, et al. Clinical and immunological features of severe and moderate coronavirus disease 2019. J Clin Investigation. doi:10.1172/JCI137244
The American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome/about-metabolic-syndrome