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A scary new coronavirus complication is puzzling doctors

Published Apr 21st, 2020 2:05PM EDT
coronavirus symptoms
Image: Dan Callister/Shutterstock

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  • Some coronavirus patients have been shown to have kidney damage, though doctors aren’t sure why. 
  • The virus may be directly affecting the kidney’s cells, or the damage may be a side effect of reduced blood oxygen levels.
  • Researchers are still working to determine the cause of COVID-19 kidney damage. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 causes a number of symptoms that are well-known to doctors. Patients often endure a fever, fatigue, and in the more severe cases, breathing troubles and lung damage is possible. However, as the outbreak continues, medical professionals and researchers are noticing kidney damage in some coronavirus patients, and they can’t explain why.

The kidneys clean the blood, and they’re vitally important to the healthy functioning of the human body. Unfortunately, they may be susceptible to coronavirus due to the virus’s ability to bind to a specific receptor on certain cells.

Not all cells in the human body are created equal. Depending on the cell, different binding sites are available. Coronavirus can bind to the ACE2 receptor, which makes it incredibly dangerous to the cells of the lungs, which include that binding site. The kidneys also have ACE2 receptors, and doctors are concerned that the virus may be directly damaging them as well.

That theory has yet to be proven, however, and there are other ways a COVID-19 infection could cause harm to the kidneys without direct contact with the virus. As NBC News reports, Dr. Holly Kramer, president of the National Kidney Foundation, suggests that the kidney damage may be the result of inadequate oxygen flow after the virus attacks the lungs.

If that’s the case, the kidney damage is merely a side effect of the lungs not being able to provide the rest of the body with enough oxygen. That makes a lot of sense since those with the most severe coronavirus infections often exhibit severe lung damage and a dramatic drop in blood oxygen levels.

Along with those two theories, a third has also emerged. It’s possible, doctors say, that the virus can cause blood clots to form. Since the kidneys are the body’s blood filter, clots can have a serious impact on the ability of the kidneys to keep blood flowing clean.

Individuals with poor kidney function already are at an increased risk of serious health outcomes from a coronavirus infection, and it remains vitally important for kidney dialysis patients to keep up with their treatment schedules.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of things in a very short period of time, making it a challenge for doctors and scientists to develop a gameplan that works for patients with varying existing health concerns. Going forward, we’ll hopefully learn what exactly coronavirus does to the kidneys, allowing doctors to form a more effective treatment plan.