Home Health Glenn Ellis Ellis: Coronavirus and chronic diseases

Ellis: Coronavirus and chronic diseases

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By Glenn Ellis

Chronic diseases affect nearly 1 in 2 adults in this country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses this definition: “Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. They are also leading drivers of the nation’s $3.5 trillion in annual health care costs.”

With the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the world, including in the United States, patients with chronic illness may be concerned not only about COVID-19, but also how it can affect their pre-existing chronic illness.

We are beginning to see increasing coverage on how African American communities across the nation being devastated from the impact of COVID-19. Last week, it was reported that 70 percent of deaths in Chicago were African Americans, while only comprising 29 percent of the city’s population. But, sadly, this is not an outlier.

Along with New York and Seattle, New Orleans has emerged as one of the early U.S. hotspots for the coronavirus, making it a national test case for how to control and treat the disease. Chief among the concerns raised by doctors working in the Louisiana city is the death rate, which is seven times that of New York and 10 times that of Seattle, based on publicly reported data. New Orleans residents suffer from obesity, diabetes and hypertension at rates higher than the national average, conditions that doctors and public health officials say can make patients more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has identified 21 chronic conditions: alcohol abuse; drug abuse/ substance abuse; Alzheimer’s and dementia; heart failure; arthritis; hepatitis; asthma; HIV/AIDS; hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol); hypertension (high blood pressure); cancer (breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate); heart disease; kidney disease; depression; stroke; and diabetes.

African Americans suffer, disproportionately, from higher rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes, which are perpetuated by a lack of access to quality care. Currently, 48 percent of African American adults suffer from a chronic disease.

Think about it; statistically, if you see any two African Americans, one of them has a chronic condition. Recognizing a growing and alarming trend, in 2002, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded a study by Partnership for Solutions at Johns Hopkins University to look at chronic conditions, anticipating the need for coordinated care for patients with chronic conditions. They found that 24 percent of Americans had one chronic disease. Another 21 percent have more than one chronic disease.

Now, that was almost twenty years ago, but, if the proliferation of dialysis centers popping up throughout black communities across the country is any indication, I’d have to say that things have gotten worse, not better since 2002.

This issue has the potential to get so bad that, among other reasons) a Senate letter was sent to the Secretary of Health and Human Services which stated, “Any attempt to contain COVID-19 in the United States will have to address its potential spread in low-income communities of color, first and foremost to protect the lives of people in those communities, but also to slow the spread of the virus in the country as a whole.”

This is a serious time, and the “predisposition” for dying from COIV-19 looms large over the heads of the African American community.

If you have or are at risk for high blood pressure, consume only 1,500 milligrams of salt daily. Use less salt at the table or substitute salt-free herbs and spices, and check condiment labels for salt content. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over processed types and rinse salted canned vegetables before serving. Choose low-salt products and watch for “hidden” salt on product labels, avoiding baking soda, sodium nitrate, sodium citrate and sodium benzoate.

Learning how to address challenges and make informed decisions about your health can help you live a healthier life during the current coronavirus pandemic.

While we’re all going through this unfamiliar, and restricted period of living, make it a priory to be diligent in protecting your health as best as possible. Take a moment and really think about setting up a “new” lifestyle that promotes wellness. Set a daily routine that includes some creative way to get 20-30 minutes of physical activity.  This will vary depending on everyone’s individual circumstance. You know what you can do, just do it. Stay hydrated. The reduced daily movement in your life can make you totally forget about drinking water. Set a clear and specific (daily) schedule time(s) to take your prescription medications.

Based on CDC research, we know what the risk factors for chronic diseases are: tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke; poor nutrition, including diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in sodium and saturated fats; lack of physical activity; and excessive alcohol use.

What we know about this novel coronavirus is that patients with chronic conditions tend to be in far worse general health leading up to this pandemic. The research shows that lifestyle and diet are the keys. We have a tremendous amount of control over both. We’ve got lots of time on our hands, let’s use it to stay alive through this pandemic by adopting the habits that will help manage chronic conditions.

Glenn Ellis, is a Harvard Medical School Research Bioethics Fellow and author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. For more good health information visit: www.glennellis.com.