Obesity Blocks Kidney Donation

Morbid obesity is an obstacle to kidney donation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Obesity can lead to all sorts of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes. Now, it seems obesity can get in the away of kidney donation.

In general, obese people cannot donate organs because they have an increased risk of complications during surgery.

In light of the growing obesity problem in the United States, obesity may be reducing the number of kidneys available to kidney failure patients.

"Eat healthy and exercise to lose weight."

In a recent study, Mala Sachdeva, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, and colleagues wanted to see how often obesity is to blame for failed kidney donations. They also wanted to find out how often morbidly obese patients are able to lose weight and donate their organs.

The researchers found that morbid obesity hinders kidney donation.

Morbid obesity is a term used to describe patients who are extremely overweight. People who are morbidly obese have a body mass index (BMI) - a measure of body fat using height and weight - of 39 or more.

Looking at records of 104 possible living kidney donors, the researchers found that 23 donors (22 percent) were morbidly obese. Of these potential donors, only three (13 percent) were able to lose enough weight to donate a kidney.

"This study suggests that morbid obesity is a barrier to kidney donation, and even though morbidly obese patients reported that they were trying to lose weight through diet and lifestyle modifications, they were largely unsuccessful at losing the weight and becoming donation candidates," explains Dr. Sachdeva.

The study's results also show that 85 of the study's participants (82 percent) were overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.

While three morbidly obese patients were able to lose enough weight to donate, 20 patients were unable to donate a kidney for various reasons. Seven morbidly obese donor candidates could not lose weight but were still trying. Another six morbidly obese candidates decided not to donate. Due to medical reasons, two morbidly obese candidates were turned away. One morbidly obese candidate declined to donate for social reasons. One candidate was unable to donate because the recipient died. The last three morbidly obese donor candidates were lost to follow up.

"As a next step, we must conduct larger studies that assess how vast a problem this is on a national level and determine how best to expand our living donor pool for kidney transplantation," says Dr. Sachdeva. "Due to kidney shortages, there must be tangible efforts made to increase the donor pool."

Dr. Sachdeva suggests that potential donors who are turned away because of their weight may need to take part in more rigorous weight loss programs and check in more often for follow ups at their transplant center. They even might benefit from joining social support groups.

"Something needs to be done to increase the number of live donors but also to make it as safe as possible for them to donate," Dr. Sachdeva concludes.

“There are now more than 92,200 people in the U.S. awaiting a kidney transplant," says Michelle Segovia of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. "If a kidney patient has a friend or family member who is willing to be a living donor, the potential donor would need to contact the patient’s transplant center so various testing can begin. In 2011, more than 5700 people were living kidney donors.”

The results of this single-center, retrospective analysis were presented at the National Kidney Foundation 2012 Spring Clinical Meetings in Washington, D.C. As such, the study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 14, 2012
Last Updated:
July 9, 2012