The impact of COVID-19 on people with cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses

Apr 27 2020

We spoke with HMRI Cardio-oncologist Professor Aaron Sverdlov about why people with chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, are at greater risk from COVID-19.

People with certain pre-existing conditions are at greater risk of both acquiring the virus and acquiring it in a more severe form. For people living with chronic disease, their immune systems are already compromised, making it harder for them to fight off the virus than healthy people.
COVID-19, and what we know about it, is still evolving however, anyone who falls into an at-risk group should take greater care and stay home during the pandemic and maintain social distancing if you need to go out in public.
We know that of those people who have died from COVID-19, a high proportion had cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The reasons for this are complex, and are still being explored, but it demonstrates the need for people living with chronic conditions to take extra care during this challenging time.

COVID-19 and the strain on the body

COVID-19 commonly affects the lungs, but it also impacts the heart and can cause permanent damage. People with heart disease have bodies which are already under strain, so having a major illness such as coronavirus puts an extra strain on the heart, which leads to further complications later in the disease.

People who are living with cancer, and undergoing cancer therapies, are even more susceptible as their immune system is compromised. For those who are undergoing cancer treatment, this can place even more stress on themselves and their families. The Cancer Council Helpline can offer support and guidance, you can reach them on 13 11 20, Monday to Friday between 9 and 5pm.  These are uncharted times, but it’s important to remember that there is always somCoeone who can help.

Continue your medications as usual

Unless your doctor advises otherwise, it’s important to continue to take your medication as usual. If you’re concerned about your health, speak with your GP or specialist as soon as possible. If you show any signs of COVID-19 (fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) contact your doctor to ensure you are checked out as soon as possible.

Taking care of yourself

If you are living with a pre-existing condition you need to do all you can to avoid contracting COVID-19. Susceptible populations, such as those with a pre-existing illness really need to stay inside as much as possible, wash hands regularly and minimise contact with other people as they’re at the highest risk.
While COVID-19 is the focus of a lot of health concern at the moment, it’s important for people to look after their general physical and mental health. Eating well, gentle exercise and taking care of your mental health are all vital. Catch up with friends on the phone or online, and try to breathe in fresh air and see the sunshine each day.

Stay up-to-date with health advice at

For up to date information and advice about the current COVID-19 situation please visit the Australian Government Department of HealthNSW Health and World Health Organisation websites.

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