Is There a Link Between Hepatitis and Kidney Disease?

Hepatitis - Printed Diagnosis with Blurred Text. On Background of Medicaments Composition - Red Pills, Injections and Syringe.; blog: Is There a Link Between Hepatitis and Kidney Disease?

World Hepatitis Day is coming up on July 28th. The aim of this event is to raise awareness about the disease because hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by viral hepatitis and many of them are undiagnosed. To help spread awareness among kidney patients, we are taking the opportunity to explore how hepatitis and kidney disease are linked.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most cases of hepatitis are caused by viruses. In other cases, inflammation is caused by drug or alcohol use or due to an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the healthy cells in the liver. 

Viruses cause hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. These viruses can cause acute infections or chronic infections. Acute infections develop rapidly and resolve in a short period of time. Chronic infections are persistent infections that develop gradually and are slow to resolve.

When it comes to the link between hepatitis and kidney disease, the hepatitis C virus is the focus. Therefore, for the rest of this article, we will be concentrating on that type of viral hepatitis infection. Hepatitis C infection is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. Chronic hepatitis can lead to liver damage and liver failure. In some cases, it’s also connected to kidney disease.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Most people don’t have any symptoms or changes in their health when they’re infected with hepatitis C. In most cases, symptoms only appear if the infection causes liver damage occurs. When the liver is damaged, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle soreness
  • Stomach pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Fever
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice)

Risk Factors for Hepatitis C

Anyone can become infected with the hepatitis C virus. But some people are at a greater risk of infection. Your risk of hepatitis C infection increases if you:

  • Received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplants before 1992
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965
  • Inject illegal drugs
  • Have sex with an infected person
  • Are exposed to sharp instruments (razors, needles, etc) that have been in contact with infected blood

Hepatitis and Kidney Disease

There is a connection between hepatitis and kidney disease, specifically hepatitis C. In rare instances, a hepatitis C infection can lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD) or acute kidney injury (AKI).

Hepatitis C and CKD

There is a connection between hepatitis and kidney disease because sometimes hepatitis C can lead to CKD. According to the American Kidney Fund, this doesn’t happen often but doctors still recommend that patients with chronic hepatitis C get tested for kidney disease every year. Hepatitis C and CKD are linked in two main ways:

  • Having hepatitis C increases your chances of getting diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease and kidney failure.
  • Hepatitis C can lead to glomerulonephritis. Glomerulonephritis is a type of kidney disease in which the tiny filters that make up the kidneys (glomeruli) are inflamed and permanently damaged. This damage can cause CKD.

Hepatitis C and AKI

Acute kidney injury (AKI) occurs when your kidneys stop working over a short period of time. Symptoms appear suddenly rather than developing over time. In many cases, the kidneys will regain function after the cause of AKI is addressed. In rare cases, hepatitis C may be linked to AKI due to two factors:

  • Hepatitis C can cause a condition called vasculitis. Vasculitis occurs when blood vessels (arteries and veins) are inflamed. AKI can occur if vasculitis affects the vessels in the kidneys.
  • Medications have been connected to an increased chance of AKI. However, AKI due to hepatitis C treatment is very rare.

Living with Hepatitis and Kidney Disease

Patients that have both hepatitis and kidney disease may have worse health than CKD patients without hepatitis C, especially if both diseases are not being well managed. Hepatitis C can also cause a faster progression of CKD into kidney failure. However, with the right treatment team, you can manage the symptoms and progression of both CKD and hepatitis C. 

There are treatments for hepatitis C that are safe and effective for kidney patients on dialysis. Due to strictly enforced safety regulations, dialysis centers take extensive precautions to prevent the spread of all types of infection in dialysis units. Just make sure you choose healthcare providers with experience in treating and managing these conditions, and complications can be avoided.

At Durham Nephrology, we provide comprehensive care to patients in Durham and Oxford, NC with kidney disease and high blood pressure. Our team is experienced in treating and managing conditions like chronic kidney disease and complications related to hepatitis. If you have questions about recovering from a kidney transplant, call us at  919-477-3005 to talk to a staff member and make an appointment

When you visit our offices, you can be confident that we are taking the necessary precautions to protect the health of our patients as well as our staff. We are following all guidelines for sanitization, social distancing, and face coverings.


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