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Blacks who donate kidneys face higher health risks

Juliana D. Norwood | 8/25/2010, 5 p.m.

Donating vital organs such as kidneys is probably one of the most generous gifts a person can give, but African Americans might become a little less giving due to the findings in a study that was recently released by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The Journal reported that Blacks who donate a kidney find themselves facing a higher risk of kidney disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, than Whites who donate.

Compared to Whites, Black donors were 52 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure, and more than twice as likely to develop chronic kidney disease or diabetes requiring drug therapy.

"We are not proposing any change to donor selection policy based on these data, and do not believe that race and ethnicity should be used to discourage anyone from stepping forward for potential donor evaluation," said Dr. Krista Lentine who led the study, at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Researchers say they do not now why this increased risk for challenges occur.
African Americans make up 34 percent of the nation's population of people who are awaiting a donated kidney.

A separate study done a few years ago by the Wake Forest School of Medicine found that African Americans are already less likely to become successful living donors because of their high rates of obesity and failure to complete donor evaluation.

About 30 percent of Blacks were excluded because of obesity, compared to 16.6 percent of Whites and 12 percent of Blacks were excluded because they didn't complete the evaluation process, compared to 1.8 percent of Whites.

For Whites, the biggest reason for exclusion was kidney stones, at 7.3 percent, compared to 1.5 percent in Blacks.

"Further study of these differences may improve our understanding of the causes of low rates of living kidney donation among African Americans, particularly regarding the social reasons," said Amber Reeves-Daniel, D.O., an instructor in internal medicine-nephrology who speculated that a lack of trust in the medical community, financial inability to get to doctor's appointments for tests, and concerns with work and child care, may be contributing factors preventing Blacks from donating.

Although her study did not delve as deeply into the reason for why the discrepancies between Black and White donors existed, Dr. Lentine speculated that because many of the health problems, like diabetes and high blood pressure, are already higher in African Americans, a lack of access to adequate health care-which many African American experience-can increase the risk of these issues. Dr. Lentine also speculates that further study will be done to better answer why this discrepancy exists.