Dr. Sandra El Hajj - MSc, N-MD, DHSc
COVID-19 is a viral infection that has affected the entire globe these past few months. This infection affects everyone and its symptoms range from mild to severe. While young healthy individuals do not seem to be severely impacted by COVID-19, older adults and individuals with existing chronic conditions have been severely affected.
Symptoms start surfacing up 2 to 14 days post-exposure and include a cough, shortness of breath, fever and chills, muscle pains, sore throat and loss of taste and smell. Some other reported symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. COVID-19 affects many organs of the body including the kidneys.
There are two kidneys, located on either side of the spine at the lowest level of the rib cage. Each kidney contains up to a million functioning units called nephrons, which is where blood filtration takes place. A nephron consists of a unit of tiny blood vessels called a glomerulus attached to a tubule. The glomerulus is responsible for the blood filtration while the tubules are responsible for either the reabsorption or secretion of water as well as other essential compounds such as glucose, electrolytes and proteins. Excess fluid containing wastes are then excreted out of the body through the urine.
Kidneys play a very important role in the removal of waste products and excess fluid from the body through the urine. This function of the kidneys is very important for maintaining a balanced supply of essential compounds to the body while removing waste products that may cause harm. The critical regulation of the body's salt, potassium and acid content is also performed by the kidneys.
Kidneys also produce hormones that affect the function of other organs. Specifically, their function is to remove waste products and drugs from the body, help balance the body's fluids, release hormones that regulate blood pressure, produce an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones and control the production of red blood cells.
Chronic kidney disease is defined as having abnormalities in the proper functioning of one or the two kidneys. As a result, kidney function will get disrupted allowing such as the presence of protein in the urine and having decreased kidney function for a period of three months or longer. There are many causes of chronic kidney disease. Some kidney conditions are inherited, while others are congenital or in-born. The following are general causes of kidney damage:
Kidney disease usually affects both kidneys. If the kidneys' ability to filter the blood is seriously damaged by disease, wastes and excess fluid may build up in the body. Although many forms of kidney disease do not produce symptoms until late in the course of the disease, there are six warning signs of kidney disease:
What existing cases show so far is that older individuals who have existing kidney disease and chronic conditions are more likely to exhibit serious COVID-19 related complications(1). These individuals should make sure they are well-protected and taking all precautions to avoid contracting the virus. Make sure you are not going to crowded public places, wearing masks and gloves as required, washing hands and sanitizing everything you buy from stores before using them.
Those who contract COVID-19 are at an increased rate for developing acute kidney failure(2). It is a severe complication that comes with as high as a 50% mortality rate. Despite this finding, more research is needed to link this novel virus to the kidneys.
When COVID-19 enters the body, it binds to receptors called ACE2. These enzymes are found in kidneys. These receptors and proteins/enzymes allow the viral cells to infiltrate our own body cells, allowing them to channel in. A second theory explains that kidney damage is a kind of secondary side effect caused by the lack of proper oxygen throughout the body. When COVID-19 attacks the lungs, it causes alveoli to collapse, resulting in disrupted oxygen flow to the entire body system including the kidneys.
Individuals who are using dialysis to filter blood outside of the body are facing a crisis due to COVID-19. This virus increases the formation of blood clots. So, the blood is not able to smoothly flow throughout the body. And, the presence of these clots is creating clogged filters in dialysis machines. This has led doctors to start using blood thinners in the treatment regimen.
Kidneys play a very important role in the removal of waste products and excess fluid from the body through the urine, and when compromised through illness or other complications, the impact can be serious, even leading to death.
COVID-19 has impacted many organs of the human body. Research is still young and we have a ways to go to fully understand the correct mechanism of this novel virus. But, with the proper dedication and study teams, more advancement can be made that can has a positive impact on mortality rates.