COVID-19 and acute kidney injury: what you need to know


You’re likely aware that COVID-19 can cause significant respiratory issues in infected individuals. But did you know that the coronavirus can also attack a person’s kidneys? A National Kidney Foundation – Harris Poll Survey revealed that just under 1 in 5 Americans are aware of the potential for acute kidney injury (AKI) as the result of this virus. The presence of AKI in COVID-19 cases has important implications for the long term health of survivors and our health care system.

What is acute kidney injury?

Acute kidney injury, also called acute renal failure, is sudden, severe damage or failure to the kidneys. AKI can happen to anyone but is most common in patients already ill in the hospital. If caught quickly in an otherwise healthy patient, the kidneys may regain almost normal functioning. AKI develops rapidly over the course of a few hours or days, and can be life-threatening.

Why do we need to recognize AKI in COVID cases?

The National Kidney Foundation states that 15% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients develop AKI. For those in intensive care, the reports are worse – 20% or more ICU patients have lost kidney function. It’s important to recognize that those who had AKI are at increased risk for developing chronic kidney disease (CKD). With CKD, an individual’s kidney function declines over time and the patient becomes dependent on dialysis or kidney transplant.

What are the implications?

Before the pandemic, 1 in 3 Americans were already at risk for chronic kidney disease. Our healthcare system will need to accommodate a whole new population of kidney patients: COVID-19 survivors. An increase in kidney failure patients increases the need for dialysis equipment, dialysis training, and kidney transplants even after a vaccine is created. In the months and years ahead, these needs may put significant strain on our healthcare system without increased funding and resources.

What you can do

Reducing the number of COVID-caused AKI cases means avoiding exposure to the virus. We cannot stress enough how important it is to wear your mask, avoid contact with others outside your household, and wash your hands. These actions can protect you from a fight for your life that can last long after the coronavirus.


At the Nephrology Associates of Cincinnati, we believe in arming our communities with knowledge that can save lives. Check out our other posts on kidney health and COVID-19.

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