Coronavirus & Autoimmune Diseases: ​3 Things You Need to Know About COVID-19 If You Have An Autoimmune Condition by Dr. Chad Larson

Coronavirus & Autoimmune Diseases: ​3 Things You Need to Know About COVID-19 If You Have An Autoimmune Condition

At this point, the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has impacted all of our lives in ways large and small. For many of us, we’ll be feeling the impact of this outbreak long after it’s gone. However, for those among us with an existing autoimmune condition, the necessity of taking every precaution to guard against this disease is particularly urgent.

Results from a recent study by Imperial College London indicate nearly 2.2 million Americans could die from the coronavirus within a year if we are unable to flatten the curve, and those already with immune system dysregulation are particularly vulnerable. This means that the 23.5 million Americans who suffer from an autoimmune disease need to do all that they can to protect themselves. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include: 

  • fever
  • chills
  • body aches
  • dry throat/nose
  • dry coughing 
  • trouble breathing

It is a highly contagious virus that can affect individuals of all ages, but most severely affects older adults and those who have pre-existing conditions, such as an autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune diseases affect the body's ability to fight the virus, and thus the symptoms of the virus become more severe. Many autoimmune diseases can compromise the body's production of white blood cells that protect the body against foreign invaders. The lack of white blood cells prolong the length of time it takes to fight the virus, which causes the symptoms to get worse, and therefore puts those with autoimmune disorders at a higher risk. Some of the most common types of autoimmune disorders are:

  • lupus
  • psoriatic arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • autoimmune thyroid disease 

Although everyone should be taking precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, those with autoimmune disorders should be taking extra care to ensure that their health is not compromised during this trying time. Here are some important things to know about coronavirus if you are autoimmune compromised:

1. Go Overboard in Avoiding Public Spaces

While this should be a rule for everyone during this time, it especially applies to those with autoimmune disorders. In fact, if you’re reading this and you have an autoimmune condition, please understand that we as a society are practicing social distancing in part to protect you – so do your part! If you have an autoimmune disorder, ensure that you are doing everything you can to avoid public places. Self-quarantining includes having someone deliver your food (and sanitizing any food or packages upon receipt) and only leaving your house when absolutely necessary or for brief periods in open air locations with plenty of space between yourself and anyone else (6 feet or more to be safe if you have an underlying autoimmune condition). 

It is important to note that this does not simply mean avoiding those who are sick or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Individuals can have the coronavirus and be asymptomatic for up to two weeks. This means that there are a large number of individuals who are spreading the disease unknowingly, as they are not aware they even have it themselves. If you have the luxury of living near family or friends who are not autoimmune compromised, ask them if they are willing to help you receive all essential items that you are not able to go out and get.

2. Tests Are in Limited Supply – But You Are a Priority 

One of the main causes associated with the rapid spread of COVID-19 is the lack of adequate testing available to the public. Although tests are being developed that allow for more individuals to be checked and receive their results quicker, there are still not enough tests for every individual who has been exposed to the disease. It is important to note that if you have any symptoms, especially if you also have a pre-existing autoimmune condition, there is a COVID-19 hotline that you can contact and ask where you can get tested. 

A Google search of “COVID-19” or “coronavirus (your state)” can put you in contact with your state's coronavirus hotline and access to medical centers that are currently administering tests. If you feel that you are already experiencing more severe symptoms of the virus, contact your existing health-care provider for the best steps on how to proceed – and make sure they are made aware of your condition.

3. Symptoms of COVID-19 Are Not Immediate – Even for Those With an Autoimmune Condition 

Similar to the flu, it is possible to contract the virus unknowingly and live asymptomatic for an extended period of time. Individuals with autoimmune conditions are likely to experience more severe symptoms quicker, however it exactly depends on the health of their immune systems. For example, those with pre-existing lung conditions are likely to experience trouble breathing/shortness of breath when compared to those with full lung capacity. Contact your health-care provider if you experience any COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to someone who could be positive. If you are at risk because of an existing autoimmune condition, you cannot afford to sit back and wait to see how bad your condition gets before taking action.

When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system has to work harder than others just to keep your body healthy and protected from regular day to day germs and bacteria. The most dangerous thing about COVID-19 is that our bodies have never been exposed to it before and there is no cure at this time. Some people who get it are asymptomatic and others experience nothing more than light cold symptoms, while others fall gravely ill. If you are someone with an autoimmune disease, you should not underestimate the possibility that you may fall into the latter category. 

Practice social distancingwash your hands, follow the news – all the things everyone else is doing. But also pay attention to how your body is doing with your condition and be prepared to take action should you feel you may have been exposed. We still have much to learn about COVID-19 , but we know that anyone with a compromised immune system will be particularly vulnerable as we look to contain its spread. 

The information on is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information provided through this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider.

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I have an autoimmune condition and am so scared of getting this virus. Thanks for the info. 🙏
Elisa Schmitz, 30Seconds
Excellent information here for those of us with autoimmune challenges. Thank you for sharing this, Dr. Chad Larson . Welcome to 30Seconds. We look forward to learning more from you!

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