Autoimmune diseases: Keep taking your meds during pandemic, experts say

Aug 18, 2020
People with autoimmune diseases often take medicines that suppress their immune systems. Source: Getty.

People with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are being advised to keep taking their meds during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Those with autoimmune diseases often take medicines that suppress their immune systems as part of their regular treatment.

In a new editorial in Australian Prescriber, Associate Professor Phillip Robinson and Dr Evan Bursle from the University of Queensland advise people with autoimmune diseases to keep taking their medicines as prescribed, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A healthy immune system helps protect the body from infections including viruses like coronavirus,” Associate Professor Robinson says. “However, for people with autoimmune diseases, the body’s own immune system attacks itself which is why immunosuppressants are used in treatment.”

He went on to say that this doesn’t mean those with autoimmune diseases should stop their meds altogether, adding that people taking immunosuppressants are no more likely than the general population to be hospitalised for Covid-19, to need oxygen in hospital, or die from the virus.

He added: “It remains important, however, to keep autoimmune diseases under control. This is why international rheumatology guidelines recommend that people with autoimmune disease only stop treatment if they get Covid-19.

“For people with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, suspending the immunosuppressant medicines may be appropriate depending on the circumstances of the individual person. If you do find yourself in this situation, your doctor will advise you of the best course of action for you.”

Meanwhile, it comes months after doctors looked into whether a common type of blood pressure-lowering medication, known as ACE inhibitors, may be linked with an increased risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.

A study published in The Lancet, the prestigious UK medical journal, on March 11 looked at three separate pieces of research focused on coronavirus (also known as Covid-19) patients. The majority of patients who developed severe cases of Covid-19 had underlying health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

“Notably, the most frequent comorbidities reported in these three studies of patients with Covid-19 are often treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors; however, treatment was not assessed in either study,” the research published in The Lancet on March 11 wrote. In other words, the most common factor the patients shared, in addition to suffering from coronavirus, was that they were taking ACE inhibitors.

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