COVID-19: Underlying health conditions that can make coronavirus more severe

Asthma medication Source: Getty ImagesRgStudio

These are some of the most delicate health conditions for COVID-19, defined by a compromised immune system, or weak organs' soft tissue.

A wide array of people with pre-existing health conditions are at a higher risk if they are infected with COVID-19, including those with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. The virus attacks lung tissue and increases internal inflammation, due to the way the immune system overreacts to the virus.

Globally, more than 70 per cent of the COVID-19 patients who required intensive care had a pre-existing underlying health condition.

This article details some of the most delicate health conditions for COVID-19 either because they involve some level of weakness of organ soft tissue and/or a compromised immune system.

The most critical underlying health conditions for COVID-19 are: chronic lung diseases, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, liver and kidney conditions, and all the treatments and medications that weaken the immune system, such as cancer or post-transplant treatments.


Asthma is a respiratory condition caused by hypersensitivity and inflammation of the airways, with symptoms like a cough, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness. It’s currently estimated to affects some 11% of people across the Australia. Indigenous Australians are more likely to report having asthma than non-indigenous Australians. An asthma “attack” can be triggered by anything that irritates the airways. People who suffer from asthma should take extra precautions as COVID-19 also attacks the airways.

More information on asthma (in English) here 

Other Lung conditions

The most prevalent lung conditions aside from Asthma in Australia are: asbestosis, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, lung cancer, pleural effusion, pleurisy, respiratory silicosis and tuberculosis. More information on lung diseases (in English) here

Heart Disease

Global research suggests that people with cardiovascular disease are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than the average population, not because they are at increased risk of contracting it, but because they have an increased risk of having more serious disease. COVID-19 causes an acute inflammation of the heart muscle that leads to heart injury and precipitate a heart attack.

A healthy lifestyle is vital: doing exercise, eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated and getting adequate sleep. The World Health Organisation recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination of both, with this set of recommended home-based exercises.

More information on cardiovascular disease (in English) here


People with diabetes can face additional health challenges. Diabetes Australia recommends getting the flu vaccine, having a sick day management plan in place and managing the blood glucose levels. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of severe complications from the flu and are more likely to develop serious respiratory illnesses than people without diabetes. Diabetes causes an impaired immune-response to viral infection and to the potential bacterial secondary infection in the lungs. Many patients with type 2 diabetes are obese and obesity is also a risk factor for severe infection. 

More information on diabetes and COVID-19 (in English) here

Liver conditions

People living with hepatitis B or C, or any other liver condition should use the same protective measures recommended for the general population. Be vigilant and follow the recommended measures to protect yourself against COVID-19. People with significant liver disease are recommended to receive vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal disease.

  • More information on hepatitis and COVID-19 (in English) here
  • More information about COVID-19 and chronic hepatitis B here
  • More information about COVID-19 and Chronic hepatitis C here

Kidney disease

People with kidney disease should be aware that, just like with the flu, they are at a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications from coronavirus. COVID19can affect the kidney function if the patient is unwell, dehydrated or has a secondary infection on top.

More information about COVID-19 and kidney disease here

Kidney Health Australia’s management plan here

Cancer treatment

When going through cancer, people’s immune system tends to be weaker and they should continue to follow any specific advice or precautions recommended by their health care practitioners to minimise the risk of infection, during and after treatment. It’s crucial to stay home as much as possible and avoid non-essential travel and public transport. Patients’ immune system is in a similar situation under a post-transplant treatment.

More information on cancer support (in English) here



People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. 

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.  

The Federal Government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store. 

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at