How Does Hepatitis C Affect the Kidneys?
Last updated: February 2020
This article tackles the question, "how does hepatitis C affect the kidneys?" by providing an explanation of the kidneys and their basic functions, then discussing their side effects from the hepatitis C virus.
What are the kidneys?
The typical person is born with two kidneys. Each is approximately the size of a fist and is shaped like a bean. They exist one on each side of the spine, right underneath the ribs.
In an average day, the two kidneys work together and filter through the body’s blood (ranging from 120-150 quarts of blood per day). This allows the body to remove unnecessary waste from the fluid intake that the body needs to remain hydrated. The waste amounts to 1-2 quarts of urine. That urine runs from the kidneys to the bladder through two ureters (one on each side of the bladder). The bladder then fills, signaling the brain, and that signal tells that person to find a restroom and excrete the urine into the toilet, where the bladder is emptied. This process continues to occur constantly. This is because the body is consistently working to keep the fluid in the body properly balanced with the right amount of electrolytes (these include potassium, phosphate, and sodium).
Additionally, the kidneys keep waste and extra fluid from building up inside the body, as well as making sure the right fluids go toward hydration and the unnecessary fluid heads toward the ureters. On top of those processes, the kidneys are busy making hormones which keep bones strong, make red blood cells, and provide regulation to the body’s blood pressure.
This combination of activities causes the kidneys to function as a command center for keeping the configuration of blood properly calibrated so the body can function as every organ and gland depends on that blood to exist.
What happens when the kidneys aren't working
When the kidneys are not working properly, the body can struggle significantly. Some of the most common problems include blood poisoning, drug abuse or overdose, infections, and the need for blood pressure medications to help treat high blood pressure (also called hypertension). This is because the kidneys prevent these concerns when they are properly working and, when the kidneys are unable to function at their best due to hepatitis C or due to the inability to receive properly filtered or processed fluids from the liver, the kidneys become unstable in their processes.
This can sometimes be quickly remedied via medication of the symptoms or it may take time to remedy these concerns. The remedy may be specific medication such as blood pressure regulation or it may be via treating the source, the hepatitis C virus itself.
How does hepatitis C affect the kidneys?
Hepatitis C is a virus that travels through the blood, which means it reaches and interacts with every organ and gland within the body. It primarily impacts the liver; however, other areas may be impacted simply because the virus spreads via the blood system used by every part of the body.
Anyone who received kidney treatment via blood transfusion or a kidney transplant before 1992 may have been exposed to hepatitis C. This is because blood, blood products, and organs were not tested before or during donations until 1992. If you received such, you may wish to speak with your doctor to discuss whether you may need to be tested for hepatitis C.
Whether exposed via medical experiences or from another source, as the liver is damaged due to the hepatitis C virus, other organs need to work harder in order to try to maintain the body’s required functionalities. This can lead to stress on those organs, as well as some lack of functioning. One of the symptoms of hepatitis C is dark colored urine. As that urine passes through the kidneys, ureters, and bladder, each can be impacted by the incorrect balance of fluids and nutrients that lead to the darkened color of the urine.
What does the research show about hepatitis C and kidney disease?
Moreover, some researchers have found a causal link between people with chronic cases of hepatitis C and kidney disease, as well as the accelerated progression of kidney disease. Other researchers have found a connection between chronic hepatitis C and glomerular disease. This is the inflammation of the kidney or kidneys.
In some cases, there may be symptoms such as abdominal swelling to indicate that this is occurring within the kidneys. In other cases, there may be no symptoms at all.
It is important to check with your doctor if you are concerned about the health of your kidneys so you can discuss whether your concerns should lead to further testing or to a kidney biopsy, based on the test results your doctor has from your individual hepatitis C infection and your treatment plan.1-5