AARP Eye Center
While initially the most feared complication of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, was respiratory failure, studies now show that many other organs, including the kidneys, can be affected by the viral infection, too. In some cases, the virus has caused acute kidney damage.
Alan Kliger, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and cochair of the COVID-19 response group for the American Society of Nephrology, says that those most at risk for acute kidney injury with a COVID-19 infection are people with diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
"The most important message overall is that for these particularly vulnerable populations, testing patients for symptoms of disease and tracking their contacts is critically important. It's something we have not adequately been able to do in the U.S.,” he says.
While experts don't yet know how many COVID-19 patients with acute kidney injuries will suffer permanent damage — or recover part or all their kidney function — they're beginning to learn the ways that the stealthy virus can sneak up on this organ.
How the virus harms the kidneys
When COVID-19 first enters the body, it can trigger a generalized immune response that releases proteins called cytokines, which cause a storm of cell, organ and tissue damage.
The virus can also directly force its way into the kidney by binding directly to kidney receptors, as reported in the Journal of the International Society of Nephrology last month. Researchers found clusters of the virus in the kidneys as well the urine of 9 out of 26 patients in Wuhan, China, who died from COVID-19.
Also, since the lungs and the kidneys depend on each other to function, there is “organ crosstalk” between them that can lead to damage in the kidneys, according to a study published last month in Nature Reviews Nephrology.