Know Your Real Risk: Inflammation and COVID-19

Knowledge is power.

By Dr. Roxanna Handley-Namavar

Coronavirus is a disease that can provoke extreme inflammation. In the lungs, this high level of inflammation is what causes shortness of breath and inadequate oxygen intake. Excessive inflammation from coronavirus also results in an increased risk of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolisms. High preexisting levels of inflammation put you at even greater risk for serious acute complications such as strokes—as well as long-term complications such as chronic inflammation and mental health disorders—should you become infected with coronavirus.

The good news? Knowledge is power, and sharing knowledge is revolutionary. There’s a lot you can do to reduce inflammation. And knowing your risk level for severe complications from coronavirus can help you make decisions about participating in social activities. Simple ways to reduce inflammation include increasing consumption of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables; taking supplements that include antioxidants such as NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), glutathione, vitamin C and curcumin; sleeping seven to nine hours per night; staying appropriately hydrated; doing regular, moderate exercise; and controlling your blood sugar (if diabetic).

There are several blood tests that indicate the body’s level of inflammation that you can ask your doctor about.

CRP (C-Reactive Protein):

CRP is a protein made by the liver in response to inflammation. Chronic diseases (such as diabetes), autoimmune disorders and acute infections can all cause elevated CRP. High CRP indicates a high level of inflammation and is associated with greater risk for blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.


Ferritin is the most prevalent iron-storage protein in the body. If ferritin is too high, it might indicate a disease that directly affects iron storage, or the presence of various inflammatory conditions, including liver disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Low ferritin levels indicate that the body’s stores of iron are running low. This can result in anemia, or low red blood cell count, which can cause fatigue and shortness of breath. Anemia would therefore also exacerbate these common symptoms of coronavirus.

ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate):

This test precisely measures how quickly red blood cells (erythrocytes) settle together at the bottom of a test tube. A fast sedimentation rate is a sign of excess inflammation.


Interleukins are a type of protein that stimulate your immune system’s B- and T-cells to help fight off infections. A recent study at the University of Virginia Medical Center showed that preexisting high levels of interleukin-3 have been associated with a poor outcome in COVID-19 infections.


Homocysteine is an amino acid that your body naturally produces. Under some conditions the level of homocysteine in the blood can become too high. This leads to arterial damage and increases the risk for blood clots. Though high homocysteine levels can result from a number of different conditions, they are often tied to low levels of vitamins B-12 or folate (B-9).

Various measures of hypercoagulable states:

A number of different inherited and acquired conditions can result in hypercoagulability, an increased tendency of the blood to clot, or coagulate. If you have a personal or family history of blood clots, consider being tested for genetic conditions, such as Factor V Leiden mutation, that increase your risk. Lifestyle factors, such as obesity and smoking, recent history of major surgery or trauma, and some prescription medications, like oral contraceptives, also increase the risk of clotting.

There are a number of different blood tests that can look for clotting abnormalities. Ask your doctor which ones might be appropriate for you. 

Dr. Roxanna Namavar is a psychiatrist treating patients in New York City. Dr. Namavar’s approach is rooted in  connection, allowing the patient a deeper understanding of their inner and outer wellness. She believes the next stage of medicine is focused on cellular health and regeneration, and practices with an awareness of how emotionality, spirituality and science impact her patients. She completed her residency training at the University of Virginia Health-System and is a fellow in the American Academy of Anti-Aging. Dr. Namavar is also a Brennan Healing Science practitioner, NADA certified in auricular acupuncture and trained in hypnosis and completed research at the Division of perceptual studies at the University of Virginia.