Dealing with chronic ailments during COVID-19

How one can protect themselves with the right diet, exercise and medicines

The body’s immune system plays a vital role in safe-guarding us from most infections, but as we age, our immune system also ages and gradually loses its ability to fight against infections. Among older people, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart and liver ailments put pressure on their weakened immune system, which makes it more difficult for them to deal with threats like the Coronavirus.

Dr Karthik Anantharaman, Director e-pharmacy, Medlife talks about the various chronic ailments that affect immunity and how one can protect themselves with the right diet, exercise and medicines.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a major cause for concern among the older generation, and if not kept in control, may make them susceptible to other high-risk infections. High amounts of sugar in the body tends to release free-radicals, which can damage blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis, a condition that restricts free blood flow in the body.

This may cause a stroke, or damage the smaller blood vessels present in the entire body – the eyes, leading to diabetic retinopathy, the kidneys – diabetic nephropathy, the nerves – diabetic neuropathy, where the patient loses all his sense of pain.

Uncontrolled blood sugar and diabetes also has a negative impact on the body’s immune system. It suppresses the immunity providing white blood cells (WBCs). When faced with an external infection, the immune system produces a protein called ‘antibody’, which is tested as ‘antibody test’, as a part of the ‘COVID-19 tests’ to check whether the body has produced enough ‘antibodies’ to attack the virus from inside. This is done mainly because once the body produces enough antibodies to fight an infection the first time, there is little to no chance of the same infection returning again, which is the basis for any vaccine.

Thyroid

People who suffer from low thyroxine hormone levels are also at huge risk when dealing with infections due to reduced immune function. The thyroid gland is very important when it comes to managing several important body functions. The gland has an impact on pancreas, blood vessels, brain functions, digestive system, breathing functions, kidney, liver and the heart, thus making it important for immunity as well. Maintaining a normal level of thyroxine in the blood is extremely critical to the functioning of multiple organ systems, aside from the actual production of blood cells in the body.

Liver and Kidney

Liver and kidney-related ailments also negatively impact the immune system. In cases of liver or kidney failure, a patient can have a significantly weakened immune system due to reduced production of blood cells from bone marrow and some of the medicines used to treat liver/kidney diseases directly reduce immunity as well. Such patients need to take extreme care to keep infections at bay and not skip routine tests and medicines.

Heart

Heart patients are typically ones with high blood pressure & high cholesterol. High BP patients need to control their salt and fluid intake & their daily intake needs to be monitored the most. Heart patients also need to ensure they take their medications on time, at the exact prescribed hour because the intervals at which the medicines are taken at, inform their doctor on how the patient’s heart is performing. Based on this data, they may increase/decrease dosage or change the medicine.

Stress is a major factor in today’s lifestyle that needs to be watched out for, especially for heart patients.

Dos and Don’ts

For all the above listed ailments, a combination of healthy food, timely exercises, and combining it with medicines and tests is more than enough to ensure a healthy body, and a healthy immune system. For instance, someone with kidney complications needs to watch out for total salt intake, which has to be bare minimum, and fluid intake, which has to be in proportion with the food eaten. Someone with liver complications has to stay away from alcohol. Intake of foods rich in Vitamin B and Vitamin C, Vitamin D3 and Zinc are the most effective ways to increase the production of WBCs and antibodies. A healthy amount of sunlight also needs to be absorbed by the body to ensure a good amount of Vitamin D.

Increase in medication sales during COVID-19

Chronic ailments such as diabetes or high blood pressure don’t just disappear; they need to be monitored every single day. With the rise of COVID-19 cases day by day, people are becoming more aware, have more fear and are thus taking steps to ensure their safety, by keeping themselves equipped. They are becoming more compliant with their medication and ensuring they take it regularly and on time, which is why there is an increase in the sales of these medications. “Over the last couple for months, we have seen a sharp increase in the sales of blood pressure and diabetes medicines, more specifically, a 20% increase in blood pressure and heart medicines and a 10% increase in diabetes medicine”, says Dr Karthik.

How important is it for chronic patients to not skip/delay lab tests?

For most chronic diseases, like diabetes & high cholesterol, tests are prescribed at specific intervals. For instance, a random blood sugar test is to be done at least twice a week, fasting sugar is to be done at least 5 times a week, but that seldom happens in practicality. Hence, we recommend patients to do a fasting blood sugar test at least 2 times in a week and keep their records. For a hypertensive patient, maintaining a record of their pressure at least once a day is crucial. This kind of sequential data is very critical for a doctor to take decisions pertaining to their patients.