Rheumatology and COVID-19: What You Should Know

We’re seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, yet we still get up in the morning and read headlines telling us that Orange County set a coronavirus record.

One day, the headlines will change as we get a tighter grip on the pandemic. Meanwhile, dealing with such an insidious virus is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. 

If you also have a rheumatic disease, your daily stress and concerns are amplified because you’re more susceptible to COVID-19.

As you face each day, know that the team at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center is available to talk and help you stay healthy. We have two offices in Orange and Laguna Hills, California, so call either one when you have questions about your rheumatic disease or COVID-19.

In the meantime, here are the most important things you should know about COVID-19 and the steps you can take to protect yourself from infection.

Be aware that you face a higher risk of COVID-19

Your overall risk of developing COVID-19 varies depending on the specific rheumatic disease and the type and dose of your medications. However, all rheumatology patients should take COVID-19 as a serious threat to their health because their chances of developing the infection are higher.

Your COVID-19 risk factors include:

Rheumatic disease

Anyone who is diagnosed with an inflammatory, autoimmune, or immune-mediated rheumatic disease may have a higher risk of developing COVID-19.

Immunosuppressant medications

If you take immunosuppressant medications for your rheumatic disease, you’re more susceptible to all infections, including COVID-19.

Age

As you get older, your immune system weakens and can’t protect you as well from infections.

Co-occurring conditions

Your risk for COVID-19 is further elevated if you have other health conditions in addition to your rheumatic disease, including lung disease, kidney disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Don’t stray from COVID-19 guidelines

Whether you have one, two, or all four of the risk factors, it’s vital to take steps to protect your health and prevent exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

As long as COVID-19 remains a threat, it’s essential for patients with rheumatic disease to diligently practice social distancing, continue wearing masks, routinely wash their hands or use hand sanitizers, and disinfect common surfaces in their home.

Even as the cases of COVID-19 decline and restrictions are lifted, you should continue to follow these guidelines until we can determine the environment is safe for those with weak immune systems.

Call as soon as you suspect exposure to COVID-19

Call the office and talk with us the minute you suspect you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear. Just call as soon as possible.

If there’s a chance you may have COVID-19, we will recommend that you stop taking certain medications until you have a negative test result or two weeks go by without symptoms. 

Staying on immunosuppressants, non-IL-6 biologics, and JAK inhibitors can put your health at risk if you have COVID-19. But don’t make any medication changes until you talk with us.

In some cases, and especially for patients newly diagnosed with rheumatic disease, we may also recommend stopping methotrexate, leflunomide, or sulfasalazine. However, medication changes are based on each person’s health and the severity of their disease.

Keep all your rheumatology appointments

During a pandemic, it’s more important than ever before to stick with your treatment plan and keep all your appointments. We want to closely monitor your health so we can quickly adjust your treatment if needed. However, that doesn’t mean you need to come to the office.

We take extreme steps to sanitize the office and protect everyone from viral transmission. But if you’re more comfortable staying at home, or you need to self-quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19, we make arrangements to talk with you over the phone or via video teleconferencing.

Take steps to support your overall health

We can help you create a lifestyle plan that optimizes your overall health. We work together with you to ensure your diet provides the nutrients you need, including a plan to support your immune system.

Some patients may need anti-inflammatory supplements or IV vitamin therapy to keep their body energized to fight infections and prevent COVID-19.

Whatever type of medical care you need, we’re here to help. Stay in touch and don’t hesitate to call Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center if you have any questions or concerns about COVID-19.

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