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Cardiac disease outweighs obesity in death rates of COVID-19 patients: Japanese study

The National Center for Global Health and Medicine is pictured in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

TOKYO -- Obese patients and those with hyperlipidemia and other lifestyle-related illnesses are highly likely to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms after being hospitalized with the virus, but are less likely to die from it than those with cardiac disease and other such ailments, a study has found.

    The National Center for Global Health and Medicine (NCGM) released the finding in a study on around 2,600 patients in Japan hospitalized with COVID-19. The study indicates it is possible there is a difference between the seriousness of the condition and the risk factors associated with death.

    The center has been analyzing COVID-19 cases in Japan to shed light on the characteristics of the disease and its progression. As of Sept. 28, at least 10,000 cases at around 800 medical facilities in Japan had been registered. To analyze cases in which symptoms became severe along with factors leading to death, the center examined data for 2,638 patients who were admitted to hospital by May 31.

    The center examined the ratio of patients who had serious symptoms of COVID-19 when they were hospitalized and whose conditions subsequently worsened, requiring them to be hooked up to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) equipment, for example. Of those who had no fundamental ailments, under 20% developed serious symptoms. Meanwhile, for those who suffered from kidney failure and liver conditions the figure was over 40%, and for those with conditions such as obesity, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure and diabetes, the proportion of those who developed severe symptoms was at least 30%.

    When it came to fatalities, those with cardiac disease, chronic lung conditions, cerebrovascular disease and renal dysfunction who had severe COVID-19 symptoms at the time of their hospitalization were found to have a high death rate of 30% to 40%. But the death rate for those who were obese or had other lifestyle-related disorders tended to be lower, ranging between 10% and 16%.

    NCGM doctor Sho Saito commented, "With patients who have lifestyle-related disorders, there is a possibility the death rate can be lowered with appropriate medical intervention even if they develop severe symptoms."

    The condition of patients following their release from medical care was also examined. A total of 15% of 163 people who had serious symptoms at the time they entered hospital (from June 1 onward) were left with obstacles in carrying out their daily lives or were impeded in their ability to walk. Around 3% needed to enter a nursing care facility or rest home. However, in the case of elderly people, their physical strength weakens in general after entering hospital, and it appears not all of these cases are attributable to the coronavirus, the center said in its analysis.

    (Japanese original by Kim Sooryeon, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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