Autoimmune Disorder? Your COVID-19 Complications Risk Is High

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
April 24, 2020
Autoimmune Disorder? Your COVID-19 Complications Risk Is High

If you have an autoimmune condition, you probably already know this: You’re at greater risk for COVID-19 complications. But you may not know why or how to lower your risk.

Autoimmune diseases develop when your body releases autoantibodies (a type of protein) that attack healthy cells as if they were foreign bacteria or viruses. Depending on which cells are being attack, an autoimmune disorder can develop into diseases such as Sjogren’s disease, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s disease, Celiac disease and type 1 diabetes (type 2 diabetes is generally caused by genetics, age and lifestyle choices but not autoimmune issues). 

Autoimmune diseases widely differ in the health problems they cause. But they have one thing in common – an overactive immune system.

Healthy immune systems protect healthy cells when a foreign invader enters the body. What is a foreign invader? It can be bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses or other toxins. 

Your body fights these invaders with two approaches: innate immunity and specific immunity. Innate immunity is what we’re born with and includes your skin and other barriers as well as certain types of white blood cells called phagocytes that respond when those barriers are breached. A phagocyte surrounds the pathogen, takes it in and neutralizes it. 

Specific immunity is different; it’s adaptable and develops over time to address pathogens that we do not have the innate ability to fight. As new pathogens invade our body, the immune system develops immune fighters to respond -- mostly T-cells and B-cells. Our body develops these cells as it learns to responds to millions of threats. 

Like phagocytes, these T-cells and B-cells work in conjunction to neutralize an invader such as a virus. In one part of this process T-cells release cytokines (chemical messengers) that trigger the production of antibodies, which bind to the virus and render it non-infectious.

But cytokines do more than just bind to viruses. They also help keep the immune system in check, preventing it from overreacting and producing inflammation. 

Unfortunately, if you have an overactive immune system, setting off your immune system can be problematic. If you catch a cold or the flu, your immune system goes into high gear to fight to the virus, generating too many cytokines that may flare your autoimmune condition.

And in the case of COVID-19, the excessive number of cytokines damage tissue and can lead to a breakdown in the protective lining in the lungs and blood vessels, according to Yale School of Medicine researchers. 

Researchers explain that when the lining of airway blood vessels are weakened, causing fluid and proteins to leak from blood vessels and into the tiny air sacs in the lung, replacing oxygen. The lack of oxygen causes shortness of breath, a higher risk for complications and a more severe case of COVID-19.

If you have an autoimmune disease protect yourself from COVID-19 by wearing a mask and distancing yourself from others while in public, washing your hands frequently and staying at home. It’s also a good idea to strengthen your immune system by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, controlling your stress and getting between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. 

Because there are more than 80 autoimmune conditions, there is no magic treatment that covers all of them. This is why it’s important to work with your doctor — even during this pandemic. They can help you control your autoimmune condition and maintain a strong, healthy immune system. They can also make sure you’re on the right therapies and can work with you to develop a plan to address things like diet, exercise, stress and sleep which plays such a big role in moderating your immune system. 

If you don’t have a physician, consider partnering with MDVIP. MDVIP physicians have the time and resources to help you develop a personalized wellness program that includes helping your manage your autoimmune disease. They are reachable 24/7 and many are now doing telehealth visits. 

Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

Similar Posts
IgM and IgG Antibody Tests for COVID-19 / Dalton Dunaway, PharmD, BCMAS / April 3, 2020
Update on Serological Testing for COVID-19 / Dalton Dunaway, PharmD, BCMAS / April 20, 2020

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
Physician Locator
Enter a full address, city, state, or ZIP code. You can also browse our city directory to find physicians in your area.
Enter Doctor's Name