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Should Age Be a Factor In Kidney Transplantation?

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Updated March 08, 2005

Think you are too old to be either a kidney transplant recipient or to be a kidney transplant donor? It may be that age of either the donor or of the recipient is no longer a factor. Doctors at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center Transplant Center have found at one year after surgery, transplant patients who were over age 60 did as well as younger patients, despite the fact that they usually received kidneys from older donors. A study of 144 kidney transplants found that at least a year after surgery, success rates were comparable, regardless of the age of the donors or recipients.

Newer methods of matching donor kidney to recipients has helped to increase the number of organs that are available - though there are still not enough kidneys for all those who need them. According to Robert Stratta, M.D., director of Transplantation Services we are matching based on age, weight and kidney function. An older kidney has less capacity, and someone who weighs less doesn't need as much capacity. It is a concept that is in evolution.”

Kidney transplants become necessary when the kidneys become diseased and fail to function correctly. If the kidneys fail they no longer filter blood correctly removing waste products of cell metabolism and excess water. People who have diabetes (both type I and type II) and/or high blood pressure are at higher risk of developing kidney failure. It is important for diabetics to keep their blood sugar levels under control and for people with high blood pressure to follow their doctors advice for treatment. This could include following a special diet, increasing exercise and taking medications.

Complete and irreversible kidney failure is also known as end-stage renal disease, or ESRD. If the kidneys fail and lose function, the body will fill with extra water and waste products. This condition is called uremia. Severe swelling, especially of the hands and feet may occur. People with ESRD will feel tired and weak because their body needs clean blood to function properly.

If kidney failure is left untreated it may lead to seizures or coma and will ultimately result in death. If the kidneys stop working completely, dialysis or kidney transplantation will be necessary.

It is also very important that potential donors make their wished known. While many donors give a kidney to a friend or family member in need, kidneys harvested after death are the most common. If you have hesitated to sign a donor card because you feel your organs may not be suitable due to health problems or your age, you can now consider doing it. Be sure to tell your loved ones about your intentions to donate your organs after death also. Consent will need to be given by your next of kin before any organs are removed after death. As the time for viability of organs after death is limited it is prudent to have your wishes known and understood.

Choosing to be a donor can mean the difference between life and death. While dialysis can keep someone with kidney failure alive it is not without health consequences of its own.

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