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Recent research suggests kidney disease could be a complication of more severe cases of COVID-19.

Much of what is currently known about the coronavirus has focused on the virus’s effect on the lungs. Yet recent research has also found a link between severe cases of COVID-19 and impaired kidney function.

At this point, scientific findings are based on a limited number of patient studies. More investigation is needed to establish a definitive association between renal disease and the coronavirus, as well as how to treat both conditions. Nevertheless, this emerging research does suggest kidney disease could be a possible complication of COVID-19.

What We Know So Far About COVID-19 and Kidney Disease

Because this coronavirus is so new, medical researchers are just beginning to understand its impact on the kidneys. To date, advanced kidney disease most often develops in those with a serious case of COVID-19 that requires hospitalization, according to several recent studies.

In May, a study of more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients admitted to a large New York State hospital system between March 1 and April 5 revealed that about a third developed acute kidney injury, which means the kidneys cannot filter out waste (such as excess protein). Patients also exhibited abnormal blood test results. About 14 percent of patients required dialysis.

Those findings mirror a report published in the Lancet in May that reported between 20 percent and 40 percent of COVID-19 patients in the U.S.and Europe admitted to the hospital showed signs of renal failure. The report notes that most people experience only mild COVID-19 symptoms, with only 5 percent progressing to an advanced stage.

Several factors put people at risk of kidney failure if they contract the coronavirus. Many COVID-19 patients also suffer from diabetes and hypertension. Both conditions increase the chances of developing renal disease, even without a viral infection.

Further, the coronavirus attacks the kidneys much the same way it attaches to lung cells, causing respiratory damage. The virus deprives the blood of oxygen, which impairs renal function, as well.

COVID-19 also may also cause blood clots to form in the blood vessels of the kidneys. Lastly, in response to the viral infection, the body’s immune system becomes overloaded with a protein that fights infection, possibly leading to an inflammation of healthy kidney tissue.

Given this emerging research, kidney patients or those at risk of kidney disease should follow strict guidelines on preventing viral infection. Frequent hand washing, wearing face masks and practicing social distancing when outside the home, and disinfecting all surfaces in their homes are recommended in order to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

Current kidney patients should also check with their doctors about preserving their renal health during the coronavirus pandemic. As doctors learn more about the COVID-19 and its effect on the kidneys, proper treatments will be developed to maintain optimal kidney function if an infection occurs. Currently, the best option is to take all steps to prevent an infection and report any COVID-19 symptoms to your kidney specialist.

We’re the Kidney Care Specialists

At Southern Massachusetts Dialysis Group, we understand our patients have questions about the coronavirus and their kidneys. Please contact us so we can discuss a plan to maintain your renal health