People hospitalized for Covid-19, and even some with milder cases, may suffer lasting damage to their kidneys, new research finds.
The study of more than 1.7 million patients in the U.S. Veterans Affairs system adds to concerns about the lingering effects of Covid-19 – particularly among people sick enough to need hospitalization.
Researchers found that months after their initial infection, Covid-19 survivors were at increased risk of various types of kidney damage — from reduced kidney function to advanced kidney failure.
People who’d been most severely ill – requiring ICU care – had the highest risk of long-term kidney damage.
Similarly, patients who’d developed acute kidney injury during their Covid-19 hospitalization had higher risks than Covid-19 patients with no apparent kidney problems during their hospital stay.
But what’s striking is that those latter patients were not out of the woods, said Dr. F. Perry Wilson, a kidney specialist who was not involved in the study.
They were still about two to five times more likely to develop some degree of kidney dysfunction or disease than VA patients who were not diagnosed with Covid-19.
“What stood out to me is that across the board, you see these risks even in patients who did not have acute kidney injury when they were hospitalized,” said Wilson, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
There is some question about the degree to which the kidney problems are related to Covid-19 specifically, or to being sick in the hospital, according to Wilson. It’s unclear, for instance, how their kidney function would compare against that of patients hospitalized for the flu.
But the study found that even VA patients who were sick at home with Covid-19 were at increased risk of kidney problems.
“There were risks, albeit smaller, among these patients who never had major problems when they were sick,” said senior researcher Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.