How COVID-19 can affect the kidneys

COVID-19 can cause a variety of different symptoms. However, when you think of COVID-19 symptoms, kidney pain probably isn’t one of them.

Although it’s possible for COVID-19 to cause kidney damage, kidney pain is not usually associated with this condition.

Read on to learn more about what we know so far about COVID-19 and the kidneys.

Kidney pain is typically described as an uncomfortable feeling in the back and sides of your upper abdomen. Pain in this region is called flank pain. It is felt in the area below the ribs and above the hips and pelvis.

Typically, the pain is worse on one side of the body.

COVID-19 can damage the kidneys. However, kidney pain is not typically a symptom of kidney damage. In fact, many people with kidney damage may not even know it has occurred.

More commonly, kidney pain is caused by conditions such as:

A blood clot in the kidney can also cause kidney pain, and COVID-19 increases the risk of blood clots.

It’s also possible that you have COVID-19 and are experiencing pain in the area of ​​your kidneys that isn’t actually coming from your kidneys. There are some cases studies Reporting flank pain in people with COVID-19, which is a result of the infection actually affecting the lower part of their lungs.

Many of the reports of kidney involvement in COVID-19 relate to acute kidney injury (AKI). When this happens, your kidneys suddenly stop working as they should.

In some situations, AKI causes no symptoms and is only detected when testing for other health conditions. When this happens, tests typically show elevated levels of protein, blood, or both in the urine.

When symptoms of AKI are present, they may include:

AKI is serious and needs to be treated in a hospital with supportive care and, in some cases, dialysis. Dialysis helps remove waste products and excess fluids from your blood when your kidneys aren’t working properly.

A Study 2021 reported 1,835 people with AKI due to COVID-19. Of these people, 347 (19 percent) required dialysis treatment.

Developing AKI in COVID-19 is associated with a poorer outcome. Other Study 2021 of people hospitalized with COVID-19 found that AKI was associated with a significantly higher risk of death.

How does COVID-19 damage the kidneys?

Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, damages the kidneys. It is possible that one or a combination of the following mechanisms are at play:

  • direct infection: Some cells in the kidneys express the receptor protein ACE2, which SARS-CoV-2 needs to enter a host cell. Because of this, it is possible for the virus to directly infect and kill these cells.
  • immune activity: Some people with COVID-19 have high levels of cytokines, pro-inflammatory proteins made by the immune system in response to infection. High levels of inflammation in the body can damage kidney tissue.
  • blood clot: COVID-19 may increase the risk of blood clots. These clots can block small blood vessels in the kidneys. This can block blood flow and lead to kidney damage.
  • little oxygen: Pneumonia due to COVID-19 can mean less oxygen than usual getting into your blood. Low oxygen levels can cause many organs and tissues, including the kidneys, to not function properly.

It’s also possible that some drugs used to treat COVID-19 in seriously ill people can contribute to kidney damage. Examples of these drugs include the antiviral drug remdesivir and certain antibiotics used to treat secondary bacterial infections.

Kidney problems appear to be a fairly common complication of severe COVID-19. However, the exact prevalence may vary by study.

Studies have documented AKI in 36.6 percent to 46 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19. The prevalence of AKI in people admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) for COVID-19 may be even higher, up to 78 percent.

A Review 2021 analyzed AKI prevalence in COVID-19 and included 54 studies. The overall prevalence of AKI in people hospitalized with COVID-19 was 28 percent, rising to 46 percent in the ICU.

It’s important to note that most reports of kidney damage have occurred in people hospitalized with COVID-19. However, there is some evidence that those who do not require hospitalization may also experience kidney damage.

Findings from a 2021 study suggest people who were not hospitalized with COVID-19 remain at increased risk of kidney adverse events going forward. This suggests that COVID-19 can also affect the kidneys in less severe conditions.


Research has shown that the risk of acute kidney injury (AKI) appears to be highest in people with more severe COVID-19 disease. However, there is also evidence that COVID-19 may increase the risk of future kidney disease even in people who have not been hospitalized with the disease.

A Study 2021 examined the outcomes of 143 people who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and developed new-onset kidney disease during their illness.

After a follow-up period of 4 months, the researchers found that 91 percent of the people recovered from their kidney disease, while 9 percent did not. Individuals in the non-recovery group were significantly older than those in the recovered group.

However, other research has found that kidney complications due to COVID-19 can lead to decreased kidney function.

A Study 2021 compared people hospitalized with COVID-associated AKI to those with AKI from another cause. For this purpose, the eGFR, a measure of the filtering ability of the kidneys, was determined after discharge from the hospital.

After controlling for the severity of AKI and other health conditions, people with COVID-associated AKI had greater decreases in eGFR than people with AKI due to other causes.

The aforementioned 2021 study compared kidney function in veterans who had COVID-19 and those who didn’t. The risk of serious kidney events after acute illness has been found to increase with the severity of COVID-19.

However, it also found that non-hospitalized participants had a higher risk of serious kidney events in the 30 days following their illness than those who had not developed COVID-19. These included:

  • a 15 percent higher risk of a serious adverse kidney event
  • a 30 percent higher risk of AKI
  • a 215 percent higher risk of end-stage kidney disease

These results suggest that people who have had COVID-19 may need additional follow-up care that includes an assessment of kidney function after their illness. This is especially true for people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Variousstudies to have saw in Risk factors for developing AKI or other kidney problems due to COVID-19. Based on the results of these studies, potential risk factors for kidney problems from COVID-19 may include:

Kidney pain is not usually a symptom of COVID-19. However, it is possible for people with COVID-19 to experience pain in the area of ​​their kidneys that is actually related to other areas such as the lungs.

COVID-19 can damage the kidneys, although this does not usually cause kidney pain. Most of the research into kidney damage is done in hospitalized patients, but COVID-19 can also affect the kidneys of people with less severe conditions.

Some people, such as those with chronic kidney disease and certain other health conditions, may be at higher risk of COVID-related kidney problems. If you’re at higher risk and have had COVID-19, talk to your doctor about their recommendations for follow-up tests to evaluate your kidney function.

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