Important Information Regarding COVID-19 and Urology

November 07,2021 |
Woman blowing her nose.

Over the past two years, individuals and medical professionals around the world have been trying to better understand COVID-19 and reduce its impact on our daily lives. Due to the severe complications COVID-19 can cause, those with underlying conditions need to take certain precautions to stay healthy and safe. While vaccinations are proving to be successful, they do not completely eradicate transmission. To help you better understand your risks, here is some important information regarding COVID-19 and urology.

Understanding COVID-19

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus caused by SARS-CoV-2. Transmission can occur through viral droplets and particles in the air. It can also occur if someone touches a contaminated surface followed by one of their mucus membranes, such as their eyes, nose, or mouth. Oftentimes, the virus can linger on surfaces or in the air depending on environmental factors and material. Symptoms tend to take about two to 14 days to materialize, but most people are contagious prior to the onset of symptoms. An individual’s immune function and the severity of COVID-19 determines the length that they are contagious.

Treatment options for COVID-19 vary based on severity, but many people simply need to rest at home and utilize over-the-counter medications for discomfort. In severe cases, hospitalization is required. Unfortunately, there are several different complications that can occur from COVID-19, especially in relation to urology.

The Relationship Between COVID-19 and Different Urologic Conditions

While urinary conditions cannot cause COVID-19, the virus has been linked to several different complications and concomitant symptoms that may worsen existing problems or lead to the manifestation of new issues. To make sure that you’re doing everything you can to stay healthy, it’s essential that you take the proper precautions against COVID-19 and treat existing urologic conditions according to your doctor’s instructions.

To better understand the relationship between COVID-19 and different urologic conditions, it’s important to know how existing illnesses react to increased viral loads. Individuals who are dealing with serious conditions like diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and urologic disorders are at an increased risk. Those with prostate cancer, kidney disease, bladder cancer, and urologic infections need to be diligent about reducing exposure and risk.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a cancer that originates in the prostate—a small gland in male anatomy that contributes to the production of semen. It begins when cells localized in the prostate gland begin to grow in an uncontrollable manner and can lead to several different types of cancer. The most common form of prostate cancer is adenocarcinomas, but it is also possible to experience small cell carcinomas, neuroendocrine tumors, transitional cell carcinomas, and sarcomas. Each cancer has different characteristics and growth rates, making swift treatment essential for those afflicted.

Luckily, when caught early, prostate cancer has a high survival rate. To ensure that you fully recover, early screenings and treatment programs are important. Unfortunately, COVID-19 caused a delay or complete cancellation for many individuals undergoing their yearly digital rectal exams and PSA prostate screenings. In early months of the pandemic—March, April, and May 2020—PSA testing decreased by 48%, 83%, and 67% respectively. While non-COVID related doctor’s visits have resumed, even the slightest delay in diagnosis can jeopardize remission. If you rescheduled your PSA test due to COVID-19 related closures, reach out to your urologist today. With increased vaccination rates, an ongoing commitment to wearing masks and PPE, and stronger hygiene measures, many officials agree that it’s safe to resume elective medical tests and appointments.

For those who have recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s important to be diligent about COVID-19. Prostate cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can severely weaken the immune system, thus increasing your risk of outside infection. You’re at a similar risk if you’ve recently undergone prostate surgery. Surgery weakens your body while increasing opportunities for infection, especially when you need to stay in the hospital for recovery. Healthcare associated infections (HAIs) are still problematic, especially with COVID-19 causing so many hospitalizations. Talk to your doctor about how you can mitigate your chances of contracting the virus and always follow their treatment plan.

Due to the way the prostate grows, prostate cancer disproportionately affects older men. Since older individuals are also at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, necessary precautions should be taken. If you haven’t already, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated and make sure you stay up to date with your booster shots.

Kidney Disease

Your kidneys are responsible for filtering waste out of your blood. The byproduct of this waste is urine, which is then expelled out of your body through the ureters, bladder, and urethra. Kidney disease occurs when there is a gradual loss of kidney function that eventually results in complete kidney failure. It often leads to increased levels of protein in the urine, a condition called proteinuria. Without a transplant of dialysis, kidney failure is fatal. There are many things that can contribute to kidney disease, including several underlying conditions and a generally weakened immune system.

Kidney disease can be worsened from dialysis or anti-rejection medication for transplants. This makes it even more difficult to fight infections. Unfortunately, this means that if an individual battling kidney disease is diagnosed with severe COVID-19, it can result in fatality. Regardless of the pandemic, treating kidney disease is essential and should be done with great care to avoid risk of exposure to COVID-19.

COVID-19 has also shown to cause acute kidney injury in certain individuals. In combination with lack of treatment for pre-existing conditions, this creates high levels of risk for those who are currently suffering from even minor underlying conditions. Over the course of several 2020 studies, it was found that close to 8% of patients with COVID-19 developed acute kidney injury, which had a mortality rate of 93%. This is likely caused by direct viral toxicity, so it’s essential that those with urinary symptoms are treated as soon as possible to avoid furthering the urological manifestations from potential infection or exposure to COVID-19.

Bladder Cancer

Your bladder is a muscular organ in your lower abdomen that’s responsible for storing urine. As with any organ, it’s susceptible to damage and disease, especially in regard to urothelial cells, which line the bladder. Most cases of bladder cancer begin in the urothelial cells as they start to grow out of control. If diagnosed early, bladder cancer responds positively to treatment and many people go on to live in remission for years. Bladder cancer can come back, so ongoing testing is required for preventative measures. The urothelial cells also line the kidneys and ureters, making it possible for cancer to develop there as well. However, bladder cancer is far more common.

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has a direct impact on individuals suffering from bladder cancer. Due to treatments like chemotherapy and surgery, people fighting bladder cancer have weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to catching COVID-19. It’s also been found that individuals with bladder cancer have a higher risk for requiring ventilatory support from COVID-19, so extra precautions should be taken.

Urinary Tract Infections

Millions of people suffer from lower urinary tract infections (UTIs) every year. While they’re uncomfortable, they’re usually fairly easy to diagnose and cure. However, new studies have indicated that lower urinary tract infections may actually be one of the symptoms of COVID-19, especially in elderly patients. If you experience chronic UTIs and aren’t sure what’s causing them, see your doctor and get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Urology Treatment

One of the most pressing issues regarding COVID-19 and many urologic conditions is the disruption to treatment for patients. The overall medical and surgical priorities in hospitals and urgent care centers shifted in an effort to help cope with the challenges of COVID-19 and reduce unnecessary deaths. While many doctors and hospitals have resumed services unrelated to coronavirus, the delay in urology related outpatient visits and surgeries may have worsened conditions for millions of individuals around the country.

If you think that you have an undiagnosed urology condition or had previously delayed prostate exams or screenings, contact your urologist. Getting the proper care for yourself is an important factor in reducing your risk of serious complications that are exacerbated by COVID-19. If you think you may have COVID-19, contact your doctor to undergo the proper tests and advice regarding treatment.

Taking the time to properly treat and manage urologic conditions can help you avoid more serious issues, especially those that are worsened by COVID-19. Seek treatment from your urologist at the first sign of infection and discuss your options for reducing recurring problems. If you need any educational support on urologic health, Byram Healthcare is here to help.