London, Ontario - There is good news for the 27,000 plus people around the world who donate a kidney each year. A study which followed living kidney donors for 10 years found that they were at no greater risk for heart disease than the healthy general population.
Led by Dr. Amit Garg, a researcher at Lawson Health Research Institute and nephrologist at London Health Sciences Centre, the results provide important safety reassurances to donors, their recipients and health care professionals. In the general population, there is a strong link between reduced kidney function and an increased risk of heart disease. Previous studies suggest no evidence of a higher risk for living kidney donors, however, a consensus among health care providers had not been reached.
Dr. Garg's study involved 2,028 Ontarians who donated a kidney between 1992 and 2009, and 2,0280 healthy non-donors for comparison. "We manually reviewed the medical charts of over 2000 living kidney donors in Ontario and linked this information to universal healthcare databases to reliably follow major cardiovascular events," says Dr. Garg.
Despite reduced kidney function in the donors, the researchers found that donors had a lower risk of death and heart disease compared to non-donors. Dr. Garg is the kidney specialist who evaluates all individuals in Southwestern Ontario who are interested in becoming a kidney donor. According to Dr. Garg, potential donors must pass a rigorous approval process to be considered for living kidney donation, and in such, only the healthiest people are considered.
There has been a trend towards relaxing the selection criteria in order to help with Canada's organ donation shortage. However, Dr. Garg says this study does not inform such changes in the selection process; the long-term outcomes of these new types of donors needs further study.
According to an accompanying editorial by researchers at the University of Michigan, the study resolves the uncertainty that persists about the full extent of risks assumed by living kidney donors and makes an important contribution to our understanding of long-term consequences of living kidney donation.
"We did this study because better knowledge of major cardiovascular events in people who become living kidney donors maintains public trust in the transplantation system, informs the choices of potential donors and recipients, and guides follow-up care to maintain good long-term health," says Dr. Garg.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the British Medical Journal and can be found online at BMJ.com today.