Conference Coverage

Half of patients in hospital for COVID-19 get acute kidney injury


Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a frequent complication among patients hospitalized for COVID-19, with incidence rates of 39% and 52% in two independent, European case series presented recently at the International Society of Nephrology: 2021 World Congress. Many of the cases progressed to more severe, stage 3 AKI. Factors linked with incident AKI in the two reports included use of mechanical ventilation, vasopressors, or diuretics, and elevations in inflammatory markers.

A 3D illustration of a human kidney cross section. Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen/Getty Images

The new findings confirm several U.S. reports published during the past year. In those reports, roughly a third of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 developed AKI during their hospital stay, said Jay L. Koyner, MD, during another renal conference, the National Kidney Foundation 2021 Spring Clinical Meetings.

Experience has shown it’s bad news when hospitalized COVID-19 patients develop AKI, which can prove fatal or can lead to the development or worsening of chronic kidney disease (CKD), which in some cases rapidly progresses to end-stage disease.

COVID-19 giving nephrologists an opportunity to improve AKI care

“COVID is giving us an opportunity to do a better job of taking care of patients who develop AKI, which is something that nephrologists have not often excelled at doing,” said Dr. Koyner, professor and director of the nephrology ICU at the University of Chicago.

“Many studies will look at how we can manage COVID-19 patients better after they develop AKI, because I suspect a large number of these patients will wind up with CKD,” Dr. Koyner said during his talk.

He cited several lessons from reports of AKI that occurs in patients hospitalized for COVID-19:

  • Preexisting CKD, , and severe COVID-19 appear to be risk factors for developing COVID-related AKI.
  • Patients who develop AKI during acutely severe COVID-19 may have slightly worse outcomes than patients without COVID-19 who develop AKI.
  • Certain genetic susceptibilities may play a role in developing COVID-19–related AKI.
  • Routine follow-up of AKI is generally inadequate and is not standardized, whether AKI develops while ill with COVID-19 or in other settings.

The most encouraging AKI takeaway from COVID-19’s first year is that its incidence among patients hospitalized with COVID-19 appears to have dropped from very high rates early on, possibly because of more routine use of steroids for critically ill patients with COVID-19 and a reduction in the use of ventilators, Dr. Koyner suggested.

In-hospital diuretic treatment links with AKI

One of the World Congress of Nephrology reports involved 1,248 patients admitted with confirmed COVID-19 at two tertiary care hospitals in London during March–May 2020. The average age of the patients was 69 years, 59% were men, and 17% had CKD at admission, as determined on the basis of estimated glomerular filtration rate <60 mL/min per 1.73 m2.

During hospitalization, 487 patients (39%) developed AKI, including 175 (14%) with stage 3 AKI and 109 (9%) who required renal replacement therapy (dialysis or kidney transplant). The incidence of AKI peaked 5 weeks after COVID-19 admission, Paul Jewell and associates from King’s College Hospital, London, reported in a poster.

Multivariate analysis identified several demographic and clinical variables that were significantly linked with an increased risk of developing AKI: male sex (which boosted risk by 55%), Black race (79% higher risk), CKD at admission (triple the risk), being hypertensive on admission (73% higher risk), and being administered diuretics during hospitalization (69% higher risk).

The findings of a risk linked with diuretic use “supports the cautious use of diuretics in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, especially in the presence of background renal impairment,” the authors said.

For patients with incident AKI, the 30-day mortality rate was significantly increased; mortality was 59% higher among patients who developed stage 1 AKI and was roughly triple among patients who developed stage 2 or 3 AKI.


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