GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A national study led by researchers at Michigan medicine found that heart disease was not the most dangerous pre-existing condition for patients who contract COVID-19.

An analysis published earlier this month in a scientific journal affiliated with the American Heart Association found that patients with cardiovascular disease were 30% more likely to die from the virus than other critically ill COVID patients that did not have pre-existing heart conditions. However, the numbers are virtually equal once other risk factors were considered.

Dr. Salim Hayek, the medical director for the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center, said higher mortality rates are more closely tied to the patient’s age and whether they are a smoker or are diabetic.  

“The fact that the association between cardiovascular disease and death was so heavily diminished when accounting for comorbidities suggests that cardiovascular risk factors rather than pre-existing heart disease are the main contributors to in-hospital death in patients with severe COVID-19,” Hayek said in a Michigan Medicine blog post.

The analysis looked at more than 5,100 patients admitted to intensive care units between March and June 2020. Of those patients, 1,174 had some form of pre-existing heart disease, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure or atrial fibrillation. For the entire patient group, 34.6% died within 28 days and 18% suffered a cardiac episode. However, the mortality or cardiac event rates did not differ between patients with or without a pre-existing heart condition.

Hayek says the findings show just how dangerous COVID-19 can be, not only for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Our findings reinforce COVID-19 as a pulmonary disease with multi-organ injury related to systemic inflammation,” Hayek said. “The evidence of heart damage that we frequently see in patients with severe COVID-19 is more likely a reflection of the severity of the illness and the stress it imparts on all organs rather than the development of new complications or the exacerbation of pre-existing heart disease.”

Hayek and his team are working on new studies to further define which patient groups are at the highest risk for severe outcomes with COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has published a list of pre-existing conditions that put people at a higher risk for a severe COVID-19 infection. While there is no official ranking, age is considered one of the main contributors. According to the CDC, patients 65 years or older are 97 times more likely to die from a COVID-19 infection compared to people between the ages of 18-29.

Other risks include patients with cancer, chronic kidney, liver or lung diseases, cystic fibrosis, dementia or other neurological conditions, diabetes, heart conditions, HIV, or a weakened immune system.