COVID-19 and preexisting conditions: Is a holistic approach needed?
Written by M. Vince, Ph.D. on November 3, 2020 — Fact checked by Catherine Carver, MPH
A recent reflection on the literature has found that people with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, diabetes, and chronic heart and lung conditions, are doubly worse off during the ongoing pandemic.
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Researchers from Australia, Nepal, Bangladesh, and India have collaborated on a consideration of the literature relating to COVID-19 and NCDs. They identified some important general trends and made recommendations for a holistic approach to helping people with preexisting conditions.
The researchers have found that NCDs and the COVID-19 pandemic affect each other adversely.
People with NCDs have a higher risk of severe COVID-19. At the same time, various aspects of the pandemic increase the risk of developing these diseases.
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On the one hand, people with NCDs are more likely to have serious consequences if they develop COVID-19. On the other, their socioeconomic circumstances and access to healthcare can be adversely affected by public health responses.
The authors of the survey advocate a “syndemic perspective” when managing the treatment of people with NCDs during the ongoing pandemic.
What is a syndemic?
The term “syndemic” — short for “synergistic epidemic” — was coined in the 1990s. It refers to the interaction of socioecological and biological factors leading to adverse outcomes.
During syndemics, people with NCDs are more exposed to risk factors such as mental health issues, lack of access to health services, and poverty.
According to the present research, published in Frontiers in Public Health, the COVID-19 pandemic has developed into a syndemic by mid-June 2020. This is due to factors including loneliness, financial insecurity, and restricted access to healthcare.
For example, due to a loss of income, people are more likely to cut food expenses and may have poorer diets as a result. Or, people with mental health issues may experience exacerbated symptoms because of isolation.
For people living with NCDs, factors like these can increase the risk of severe COVID-19 and worsen their preexisting conditions.