When we learned early Friday morning that President Donald Trump had tested positive for COVID-19, the first, most obvious question was about the president’s health prospects. He will have access to the highest-quality medical care. But it’s clear that he has several factors—his age, sex, and obesity—going against him, even as his doctors have consistently told us he is an exceptionally healthy man. Here’s what we know for certain about the president’s health.
A physical conducted in 2018 found that the president had moderate heart disease. In a routine coronary calcium CT scan, he had a score of 133. Anything over 100 indicates a buildup of plaque, and therefore coronary artery disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease increases your risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, as the virus is known to attack the heart as well as the lungs.
His cholesterol levels in that exam were worrying too. His LDL cholesterol level was a very high 143. A score over 100 is worrying—and even more so because Trump was already taking a statin drug to lower his cholesterol. Experts told the New York Times that these numbers seemed to indicate he was at a fairly high risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Trump was taking 10 milligrams of Crestor, the powerful statin drug, at the time. One doctor told the New York Times that based on the understanding of what 10 mg would do, we could assume his LDL levels were over 200 if unmedicated. Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House doctor at the time, said he would prescribe a higher dose of the drug.
In early 2019, the president underwent another physical, which found he had gained a few pounds. He had an LDL measurement of 122, an improvement over the previous year thanks to the Crestor. The president’s new doctor, Sean Conley, said that Trump was in “very good health” but did not release any further details.
Then, on Nov. 19, Trump kicked off speculation about a medical emergency when he made an unscheduled visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The White House told reporters that Trump simply had some free time come up and that he wanted to get a head start on his annual physical, since he expected little free time in 2020. They also said that Trump had used the opportunity to visit with the family of an injured soldier. He had lab work done there, but the White House did not say what type.
In May, when he learned that two administration officials had tested positive for COVID, Trump took a two-week course of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic. At the time, many doubted the drug’s effectiveness, but Trump said he was taking it just in case it helped. A White House doctor said that he had experienced no side effects from the drug. Otherwise, his latest physical found that his blood pressure was only slightly elevated, his cholesterol had gone down to a safer level—an LDL of 91. Otherwise, not much had changed from the year before.
Beyond these reports, we don’t know much about Trump’s health conditions. But we do know a bit more about the other factors that could affect his overall health as he fights off the virus.
First, the good factors:
He doesn’t drink or smoke.
Cardiac issues seem to be about it. There’s no evidence he has diabetes, cancer, or other serious conditions that would put him further at risk.
Then there are the risk factors:
He is obese. Technically, his weight puts him over the threshold of obesity. It’s not always useful to look at a body mass index, for a number of reasons. But a cardiologist told the New York Times to pay attention to how he looks. “All you have to do is look at his abdomen,” he said. “Abdominal obesity, that’s the machinery for inflammation for the heart.” Obesity would put Trump at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.
He doesn’t exercise. Trump has stubbornly resisted his doctors’ advice to exercise. In 2017, the New Yorker reported that he had made comments indicating he believes that exercise depletes the body’s “finite” energy resources. He has told reporters that he exercises by standing at rallies or in front of audiences, walking between buildings during work, and golfing (he uses a golf cart).
And the demographics he can’t control:
He is male. Men die from COVID at a much higher rate than women.
He is old. He’s 74 years old. That puts him solidly in the at-risk age range of 65 and older for COVID patients.