The intersection of obesity and (long) COVID-19: Hypoxia, thrombotic inflammation, and vascular endothelial injury

Front Cardiovasc Med. 2023 Feb 7;10:1062491. doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2023.1062491. eCollection 2023.


The role of hypoxia, vascular endothelial injury, and thrombotic inflammation in worsening COVID-19 symptoms has been generally recognized. Damaged vascular endothelium plays a crucial role in forming in situ thrombosis, pulmonary dysfunction, and hypoxemia. Thrombotic inflammation can further aggravate local vascular endothelial injury and affect ventilation and blood flow ratio. According to the results of many studies, obesity is an independent risk factor for a variety of severe respiratory diseases and contributes to high mechanical ventilation rate, high mortality, and slow recovery in COVID-19 patients. This review will explore the mechanisms by which obesity may aggravate the acute phase of COVID-19 and delay long COVID recovery by affecting hypoxia, vascular endothelial injury, and thrombotic inflammation. A systematic search of PubMed database was conducted for papers published since January 2020, using the medical subject headings of "COVID-19" and "long COVID" combined with the following keywords: "obesity," "thrombosis," "endothelial injury," "inflammation," "hypoxia," "treatment," and "anticoagulation." In patients with obesity, the accumulation of central fat restricts the expansion of alveoli, exacerbating the pulmonary dysfunction caused by SARS-CoV-2 invasion, inflammatory damage, and lung edema. Abnormal fat secretion and immune impairment further aggravate the original tissue damage and inflammation diffusion. Obesity weakens baseline vascular endothelium function leading to an early injury and pre-thrombotic state after infection. Enhanced procoagulant activity and microthrombi promote early obstruction of the vascular. Obesity also prolongs the duration of symptoms and increases the risk of sequelae after hospital discharge. Persistent viral presence, long-term inflammation, microclots, and hypoxia may contribute to the development of persistent symptoms, suggesting that patients with obesity are uniquely susceptible to long COVID. Early interventions, including supplemental oxygen, comprehensive antithrombotic therapy, and anti-inflammatory drugs, show effectiveness in many studies in the prevention of serious hypoxia, thromboembolic events, and systemic inflammation, and are therefore recommended to reduce intensive care unit admission, mortality, and sequelae.

Keywords: COVID-19; hypoxia; long COVID; thrombotic inflammation; vascular endothelial injury.

Publication types

  • Review