Heart Disease (Cardiovascular Disease)

What is cardiovascular disease?

What raises a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease?

Am I more likely to get cardiovascular disease if I donate a kidney?



What is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?

The term “cardiovascular” can be split into two parts: cardio, meaning related to the heart, and vascular, meaning related to the blood vessels that come to or from the heart and act like highway throughout the body, delivering food and taking away the body’s “trash”. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term for changes in the heart and blood vessels that prevent the heart from functioning as well as a perfectly healthy heart.

When you hear that someone in the United States has CVD, it usually means that they have developed atherosclerosis.  This is a condition where a sticky substance called a plaque builds up in the walls of blood vessels (arteries and veins), making them narrower.  Since these blood vessels are the body’s highways, this narrowing makes it harder for your body to deliver blood to your organs.  When people develop CVD, we usually worry about them having a heart attack (when the blood vessels that feed the heart get blocked) or a stroke (also known as a “brain attack”, when the blood vessels that feed the brain get blocked).

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What raises a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD)?

There have been many large studies of CVD in the United States.  These studies have helped identify characteristics of people who get CVD, known as risk factors.  Risk factors for CVD include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure (also known as hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • A lack of exercise
  • Diabetes
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Being a heavy alcohol drinker

(Source: World Heart Federation, http://www.world-heart-federation.org/cardiovascular-health/cardiovascular-disease-risk-factors/)


Am I more likely to get cardiovascular disease (CVD) if I donate a kidney?

Since changes in kidney function can result in high blood pressure, researchers have tried to figure out whether living kidney donation changes a person’s risk for CVD.  It is important to look specifically at living kidney donors, because their changes in kidney function have a completely different cause than most people’s changes in kidney function (surgical removal of a healthy kidney versus long-term high blood pressure, diabetes, or other diseases).

The large, longer-term studies found that living kidney donors had the same or lower risk of developing CVD and/or dying than healthy non-donors.1-3  This was also true for older living kidney donors.3

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In summary, there is currently no evidence that living kidney donors have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than healthy non-donors. However, researchers will continue to study this risk.

Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease

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1. Garg AX MA, Huang A, Kim J, Prasad GVR, Knoll G, Boudville N, Lok C, McFarlane P, Karpinski M, Storsley L, Klarenbach S, Lam N, Thomas SM, Dipchand C, Reese P, Doshi M, Gibney E, Taub K, Young A. Cardiovascular disease in kidney donors: matched cohort study. BMJ. 2012;344:e1203.

2. Garg AX PG, Thiessen-Philbrook HR, Ping L, Melo M, Gibney EM, Knoll G, Karpinski M, Parikh CR, Gill J, Storsley L, Vlasschaert M, Mamdani M; Donor Nephrectomy Outcomes Research (DONOR) Network. Cardiovascular disease and hypertension risk in living kidney donors: an analysis of health administrative data in Ontario, Canada. 2008. 2008;86(3):399-406.

3. Reese PP, Bloom RD, Feldman HI, et al. Mortality and Cardiovascular Disease Among Older Live Kidney Donors. American Journal of Transplantation. 2014;14(8):1853-1861.