Most people who catch COVID-19 get better within weeks or months. But some people develop lung, heart, or brain problems. And those aren’t the only organs at risk.
It’s possible for COVID-19 to lead to serious kidney issues. And if you’re already living with kidney disease, you’re more likely to get severely ill. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe.
Kidney Damage From COVID-19
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs below your rib cage. There’s one on each side of your spine. They do important jobs to keep you healthy, like:
- Get rid of waste and extra fluid from your body through pee
- Control blood pressure
- Help make oxygen-carrying red blood cells
Research suggests that up to half of people hospitalized with COVID-19 get an acute kidney injury. That’s a sudden case of kidney damage, and in some severe cases, kidney failure, that happens within hours or days. It causes waste to build up in your blood and can be deadly.
Some side effects tied to COVID-19 that might play a role in an acute kidney injury include:
- Damage to kidney cells (or acute tubular necrosis) with septic shock
- Increase in blood clotting
- Possible direct infection of the kidney
Some people don’t have any symptoms of an acute kidney injury. But you could have signs like:
- Not peeing enough
- Swelling in ankles, legs, and around eyes
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling confused
- Seizures or coma
- Chest pressure or pain
If COVID-19 leads to an acute kidney injury, doctors will treat both. Some people with a severe acute kidney injury need a treatment called dialysis. It cleans your blood if your kidneys can’t.
It’s still possible for your kidneys to get better after all this. But experts aren’t sure how often it happens. Most people’s kidneys don’t work as well as they used to after acute kidney injury related to COVID-19. Once you’re well enough to leave the hospital, your doctor may suggest you see a nephrologist, or kidney doctor. They can help you lower your chances of chronic kidney disease.
Kidney Disease and COVID-19
You’re more likely to get severely sick from COVID if you already have kidney disease. That’s why it’s even more important for you to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
Other steps you can take to protect yourself include:
- Wearing a mask indoors and outdoors if you’ll be around others outside of your immediate family who aren’t vaccinated (You can ask your doctor what’s safe for you once you’re fully vaccinated.)
- Washing your hands often
- Keeping your distance from sick people
- Avoiding large crowds when possible
If you’re on dialysis, don’t miss your treatments. Do let your clinic know ahead of time if you’re feeling sick, though. If you’ve gotten a kidney transplant, stick to your treatment plan and keep taking your anti-rejection medicines as prescribed.