Unfortunately, there are a lot of things we don’t know about COVID-19 and this creates fear about our own risk factors or the ones we love. About 23.5 million Americans live with an autoimmune disease, which gives a cause to concern. Immunosuppression may increase the risk of developing COVID-19 or having a more severe case.
First, it’s important to understand that certain autoimmune conditions are not caused, nor do they cause, immunosuppression or low immunity. Secondly, not all autoimmune conditions increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 infection or influence its severity.
However, according to specialists, most people with autoimmune diseases should consider themselves as a high-risk population and be extra careful. So, how does the new virus affect people with the most common autoimmune diseases?
1. Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, especially if uncontrolled, significantly increases vulnerability to infections and complications caused by them. Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure you have a supply of insulin at home.
2. Celiac Disease
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, people with celiac disease usually don’t have low immunity but might be more prone to COVID-19 if this condition is left untreated. But if celiac disease is treated and managed, this significantly decreases the risk of complications.
3. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are treated with immunosuppressive medications. This type of drug (especially steroids and immune modulators including azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine, and methotrexate) increases vulnerability to viral infection.
If you suffer from IBD and your gastroenterologist prescribed you any suppressive medication it’s wise to be extremely careful. According to Crohn’s/Colitis Foundation, it’s important to stay on your medications since inflammation caused by IBD can provoke numerous complications and damage the intestinal tract.
Autoimmune thyroid diseases don’t seem to increase the risk of complications. But the virus that caused an epidemic in 2002 called SARS may have been linked to thyroid damage. Actually, any acute disease can negatively impact thyroid function. Therefore, if you are infected with COVID-19 infection and suffer from autoimmune thyroid disease, monitor any thyroid symptoms that may arise.
5. Rheumatoid Arthritis
According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis has not been flagged as a high-risk condition increasing the risk of COVID-19 infection. Certain medications taken to treat or suppress this condition may increase your risk.
People suffering from lupus are at a higher risk for a lot of infections, including colds, flu, coronavirus, and other viruses. If you have lupus, talk to your medical care provider in order to protect yourself from virus exposure.
7. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis may increase your risk of vulnerability and severity of illness from a COVID-19 infection. Talk to your primary care physician to discuss any concerns you might have. People with multiple sclerosis should continue disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) and talk to their doctor about their specific risks.
Immunosuppressive medications and COVID-19
Of course, taking immunosuppressive medications can increase the risk of being infected, but at the same time, they’re essential for keeping your overall health and managing inflammation. That is why it’s essential to continue taking prescribed medications. However, you should talk to your primary care physician first.
This is a very scary time for everyone especially if you have an autoimmune disease and are concerned about the state of your health. That’s normal but it’s important to stay calm and not to panic. Don’t forget about things that can positively affect your immune system such as proper diet, high-quality sleep, and stress reduction. You can try breathwork or practice meditation — these are the best things that can help you stay calm and healthy in these strange and horrible times.