COVID long-haulers have higher risk of kidney damage: 4 study findings

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COVID-19 long-haulers — even those who experienced mild cases — appear to have a significantly higher risk for substantial declines in kidney function, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Researchers at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System and Washington University in St. Louis assessed the risk of kidney dysfunction and disease associated with COVID-19 by analyzing federal health data taken from March 1, 2020, to March 15, 2021. Researchers analyzed data from 1,726,683 veterans, including 89,216 30-day COVID-19 survivors. While most individuals in the study were men, the sample also included 151,289 women, of which 8,817 were COVID-19 patients.

Four key study findings: 

1. Nonhospitalized individuals with COVID-19 had triple the risk (215 percent higher) for end-stage kidney disease when compared to individuals who had never been infected.

2. Nonhospitalized COVID-19 patients also had 15 percent higher risk of a major adverse kidney event and 30 percent higher risk for acute kidney injury.

3. Compared to the control group, COVID-19 survivors had higher rates of chronic lung disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

4. Compared to patients with milder illness, critically ill COVID-19 patients had a seven-times higher risk for a major kidney event, eight times the risk for acute kidney injury and 13 times the risk for ESKD.


"People who were hospitalized for COVID-19 or needed ICU care are at the highest risk," Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, senior author and assistant professor of medicine at Washington University, said in a Sept. 1 news release. "But the risk is not zero for those who had milder cases. In fact, it's significant. And we need to remember that we don't yet know the health implications for long haulers in the coming years."


"The kidney function decline we've observed in these patients is not graceful aging," Dr. Al-Aly added. "It is not normal anything. It is definitely a disease state."


"If kidney care isn't an integral part of COVID-19 post-acute care strategy, then we will miss opportunities to help potentially hundreds of thousands of people who have no idea that their kidney function has declined due to this virus," Dr. Al-Aly concluded.


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