Older Age Didn’t Increase Risk to Kidney Donors

Kidney donation by older adults was not associated with increased mortality or cardiovascular disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Donating a kidney can help save a life, but it also brings risks to the donor. A recent study examined whether older adults who donated a kidney faced greater risks.

As people age, kidney function can decrease and heart problems can increase. These health issues could raise the risks for older adult kidney donors and make them less satisfactory donors, potentially removing a large set of people from the pool of possible donors.

A newly published study found that older adults who donated kidneys were not at an increased risk of heart problems, kidney disease or dying compared to people who had not donated.

"After donating a kidney, see your primary care doctor on a regular basis."

This study was conducted by a team led by Peter Reese, MD, MSCE, director of Kidney Transplant Outcomes Clinical Research at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

These researchers used data collected as part of a large study of health information on over 25,000 adults over the age of 50 in the United States.

Dr. Reese’s team chose 3,368 of these healthy study participants and compared them to the same number of people who had donated kidneys between 1996 and 2006.

Most of the study participants were 59 years old, 41 percent were men and 7 percent were African Americans.

Most participants were followed for nearly eight years. During this time, the researchers examined the number of study participants who died by searching the Social Security Death Master File.

The research team also reviewed medical records, including Medicare insurance records, to compare different disease and disorder diagnoses the subjects had during the follow-up period.

Results of the study showed that survival rates were not different between older adults who donated a kidney and those who had not.

A comparison of donors and non-donors with Medicare insurance found that the rate of heart and vessel disease was not different between the two groups.

Older adults who donated kidneys did not have an increase risk of diabetes, low thyroid function or osteoarthritis (destruction of the joints due to wear and tear, common in aging).

Compared to non-donors, older adult kidney donors had a 53 percent greater chance of having a diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancer.

The study's authors felt that donors might visit their doctor more often after donation and this might help explain why skin cancer might be found more often in this group of older adults.

“For too long, when we counseled older people who were considering kidney donation, we were not able to give them good information about their future risk of heart disease. Now we have a reassuring answer,” Dr. Reese said in a press statement.

“These individuals should learn that donation is unlikely to increase their risk of death or heart disease in a meaningful way,” Dr. Reese said.

The authors wrote that their results suggest “that transplant centers are usually able to select older donors who are not at higher risk of developing CVD [cardiovascular disease] or diabetes than healthy member of the general population.”

These authors noted some limitations of their study. For one, donor data reviewed by the authors did not contain information about mild kidney disease. Another limitation was that different numbers of participants in the study had Medicare insurance. Since Medicare insurance only provides minimal information about people under the age of 65, different information was available on these participants than on others in the study.

This study was published July 9 in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the American Society of Transplantation and the National Science Foundation.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 7, 2014
Last Updated:
July 10, 2014