Millions of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 could have undiagnosed acute kidney injury (AKI) according to new research.
AKI occurs when kidneys suddenly stop filtering waste from the blood, leading to serious illness or even in some cases.
According to existing data, around 20 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and 40 per cent of those admitted to intensive care develop AKI.
But University of Queensland PhD candidate and kidney specialist Marina Wainstein said in reality, the amount of patients affected could be double.
"Doctors look at the amount of urine a patient passes and the level of a compound called creatinine in the blood, which rises when the kidneys aren't working well," Dr Wainstein said.
"However, if that creatinine rise occurs before a patient presents to hospital, we can miss the AKI diagnosis and fail to manage the patient appropriately in those early, critical days of hospitalisation."
Dr Wainstein said diagnoses of AKI in patients doubled when researchers measured the fall in creatinine levels which often followed the initial rise, describing the finding as "shocking".
"Even though the AKI is already starting to improve in hospital, our research shows that these patients have worse in-hospital outcomes and are more likely to die compared to patients with no AKI," she said.
She said simple treatment options such as stopping medications that could be toxic to kidneys could often be effective in treating the problem.
Study supervisor Sally Shrapnel said the findings could be used to improve diagnoses of members of the general community.
"Now we have the data showing a large gap in AKI diagnosis exists, it's time to test this definition in a clinical trial so we can identify all AKI patients early and hopefully prevent these awful outcomes," Dr Shrapnel said.
To read the full study click here.