They Go Together… Sometimes 

I’m certain you’ve already read about Covid-19 causing Acute Kidney Injury (AKI). To the best of our knowledge, it’s airborne which means the lungs are involved. But did you know there’s a correlation between the lungs and the kidneys?

Think of it this way. You know Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) can be the cause of diabetes (sigh, that’s me) or hypertension (high blood pressure). You also know that hypertension can be the cause of CKD (sigh, that’s me again.) Well, AKI can be the cause of Acute Lung Disease (ALI) and ALI can be the cause of Acute Kidney Disease.

I know I just blindsided you with a new medical term, so let’s find out just what ALI is.  I went to The National Organization for Rare Disorders at https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome/ for what turned out to be a rather comprehensive answer:

“Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a type of severe, acute lung dysfunction affecting all or most of both lungs that occurs as a result of illness or injury. Although it is sometimes called adult respiratory distress syndrome, it may also affect children. ARDS is a buildup of fluid in the small air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. This makes it difficult for oxygen to get into the bloodstream.”

Ah, so ALI and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) are one and the same. That should make finding information about it a bit easier.

We’ve just learned that ALI can cause AKI and vice-versa, but what can cause ALI beside Covid-19? This list is from the Mayo Clinic at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ards/symptoms-causes/syc-20355576. Notice they do include COVID-19 as a cause of ARDS.

  • “Sepsis. The most common cause of ARDS is sepsis, a serious and widespread infection of the bloodstream.
  • Inhalation of harmful substances. Breathing high concentrations of smoke or chemical fumes can result in ARDS, as can inhaling (aspirating) vomit or near-drowning episodes.
  • Severe pneumonia. Severe cases of pneumonia usually affect all five lobes of the lungs.
  • Head, chest or other major injury. Accidents, such as falls or car crashes, can directly damage the lungs or the portion of the brain that controls breathing.
  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). People who have severe COVID-19 may develop ARDS.
  • Others. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), massive blood transfusions and burns.”

We can probably guess that one of the symptoms of ALI or ARDS is breathlessness, but let’s see if there are any others. I decided to go to Healthline at https://www.healthline.com/health/acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome#symptoms for this information. Yep, breathlessness is not the only symptom of ARDS.

  • “labored and rapid breathing
  • muscle fatigue and general weakness
  • low blood pressure
  • discolored skin or nails
  • a dry, hacking cough
  • a fever
  • headaches
  • a fast pulse rate
  • mental confusion”

This is not looking good at all. I’m wondering how ALI is treated now. The American Lung Association at https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/ards/ards-treatment-and-recovery was detailed in explaining.

Ventilator support

All patients with ARDS will require extra oxygen. Oxygen alone is usually not enough, and high levels of oxygen can also injure the lung. A ventilator is a machine used to open airspaces that have shut down and help with the work of breathing. The ventilator is connected to the patient through a mask on the face or a tube inserted into the windpipe.

Prone positioning

ARDS patients are typically in bed on their back. When oxygen and ventilator therapies are at high levels and blood oxygen is still low, ARDS patients are sometimes turned over on their stomach to get more oxygen into the blood. This is called proning and may help improve oxygen levels in the blood for a while. It is a complicated task and some patients are too sick for this treatment.

Sedation and medications to prevent movement

To relieve shortness of breath and prevent agitation, the ARDS patient usually needs sedation. Sometimes added medications called paralytics are needed up front to help the patient adjust to the ventilator. These medications have significant side effects and their risks and benefits must be continuously monitored.

Fluid management

Doctors may give ARDS patients a medication called a diuretic to increase urination in hopes of removing excess fluid from the body to help prevent fluid from building up in the lungs. This must be done carefully, because too much fluid removal can lower blood pressure and lead to kidney problems.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)

ECMO is a very complicated treatment that takes blood outside of your body and pumps it through a membrane that adds oxygen, removes carbon dioxide and then returns the blood to your body. This is a high-risk therapy with many potential complications. It is not suitable for every ARDS patient.”

Now that we understand what ALI/ARDS is, what – in heaven’s name – does it have to do with AKI?

“Renal failure is a frequent complication of ARDS, particularly in the context of sepsis. Renal failure may be related to hypotension, nephrotoxic drugs, or underlying illness. Fluid management is complicated in this context, especially if the patient is oliguric. Multisystem organ failure, rather than respiratory failure alone, is usually the cause of death in ARDS.”

Thank you Medscape at https://www.medscape.com/answers/165139-43289/why-is-renal-failure-a-frequent-complication-of-acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome-ards for the explanation.  I think a few definitions are in order to adequately understand this explanation.

“Sepsis refers to a bacterial infection in the bloodstream or body tissues. This is a very broad term covering the presence of many types of microscopic disease-causing organisms.

Hypotension is the medical term for low blood pressure.

Nephrotoxic is toxic, or damaging, to the kidney.

(Oligoric is the adjective meaning of or pertaining to oligoria.)

Oliguria or oliguresis is the noun meaning the excretion of an abnormally small volume of urine, often as the result of a kidney disorder.”

All the above definitions were paraphrased from The Free Dictionary by Farlex, Medical Dictionary.

You probably know more than you wanted to about the connection between Covid-19, your lungs, and your kidneys than you ever intended to find out by now. Don’t be frightened, but do wear your mask and continue to social distance. Oh, and don’t forget the hand sanitizer.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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