Donating a kidney can be a very generous gift, but not one without risks. However, a new study suggests that the risk of kidney failure in the remaining kidney may not be as great as was once thought.
The research team compared the medical history of kidney donors to the general public in the United States.
The data showed that people who donated a kidney had a lower risk of kidney failure in their remaining kidney compared to the risk of kidney failure in the general population.
This study was led by Dorry L. Segev, MD, PhD, a transplant surgeon at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Dr. Segev’s team analyzed the medical data of 96,217 kidney donors in the United States who donated their kidney between April 1994 and November 2011. The donors were followed for up to 15 years after the initial transplant.
This research team compared the kidney donor’s data with information from 20,024 participants in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The data from the survey was broken into two groups, one representing the general population and another representing individuals who never donated a kidney but were healthy enough to have done so.
The researchers found that donors experienced kidney failure at a rate of 90 per 10,000, which was much better than the general population's rate of 326 per 10,000.
The data showed that people who were healthy enough to donate a kidney but did not only had a rate of kidney failure of 14 in 10,000.
The researchers defined kidney failure as starting maintenance dialysis, being placed on a waiting list for a kidney transplant or receiving a living or deceased donor kidney transplant.
This study showed an increased risk of kidney failure in people who had donated a kidney; however, the overall risk was small and well below the rate among the general public.
“Some people who want to donate to their friends or family members express frustration with the extensive screening process,” Dr. Segev said. “But these results affirm the importance of screening donors as carefully as possible so that we can understand an individual’s inherent risk of kidney failure and make sure only those with a low inherent risk are cleared for donation.”
The researchers also note they found an increased risk of kidney failure among African-Americans donors, who had a risk of 51 in 10,000 compared to 23 per 10,000 among white donors.
The research authors note that this study is limited geographically and may not be representative of donors outside of the United States.
The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Study co-author Jennifer Wainright, PhD, reported that she is an employee of the United Network for Organ Sharing. Dr. Segev reported institutional grant support from the National Institutes of Health.
This article was first published February 11 in JAMA.