DANVILLE — Geisinger researchers, analyzing more than 12,000 electronic health records, have found that chronic kidney disease is a leading risk factor for hospitalization from COVID-19.

The researchers studied the health records of individuals who were tested for COVID-19 within the Geisinger system from Mar. 7-May 19.

They then analyzed the records for an association between specific clinical conditions, including kidney, cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic conditions, and COVID-19 hospitalization.

“Previous studies have identified a variety of health conditions associated with an increased risk of COVID-related hospitalization, including diabetes, heart failure, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease. What is significant here is the magnitude of the kidney disease-related risk,” said Dr. Alex Chang, Geisinger nephrologist and co-director of Geisinger’s Kidney Health Research Institute. “These findings highlight the need to prevent COVID-19-related illness in patients with kidney disease and other high-risk conditions.”

How underlying medical conditions increase the risk of COVID-19-related complications is not yet fully clear; however, the study suggests that the physiological stress caused by an excessive inflammatory response to COVID-19 infection could destabilize organs already weakened by chronic disease, or that organ injury from the virus could act as a “second-hit” to these organs.

“Our team used a novel approach made possible by our extensive electronic health records, unique demographic data and integrated health system,” said Tooraj Mirshahi, associate professor for Geisinger’s Department of Molecular and Functional Genomics. “We were able to perform this study despite having a much lower number of COVID-19 cases compared to large hospitals in metropolitan areas.”

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