Many adults in the United States develop hypertension, or high blood pressure, as they get older. This is due to a combination of genetics (diseases that run in your family), aging (changes in our bodies as we get older), and lifestyle choices (how much salt we eat and how much we exercise).
One cause of high blood pressure is kidney disease. When we drink water and other fluids, our kidneys make more urine. If the kidneys aren’t working properly, they may not make enough urine and extra fluid can build up in the body. This is one reason that your blood pressure can go up.
Does donating a kidney increase my risk of developing high blood pressure?
Since living kidney donors go from having two healthy kidneys to only having one, researchers looked at whether they were more likely to have high blood pressure than other healthy people in the United States. They found that 16% of kidney donors developed high blood pressure in the years after they donated, compared to 12% of healthy people the same age. However, since donors were also more likely to go and see their doctor than other healthy people, their high blood pressure might have been caught earlier.1 Early treatment is very important for high blood pressure to prevent complications like kidney damage and strokes.
While research studies haven’t shown that kidney donation raises a donor’s blood pressure a large amount, it is not uncommon for your blood pressure to be a couple of “points” higher after donation. This change does not appear to be dangerous.
I’m African American. Does that put me at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure if I donate?
There are no large studies to answer this question definitively. One small study of African American kidney donors suggested that they might be more likely to develop high blood pressure,2 but no large-scale studies have repeated this finding yet. This is an area that transplant researchers are actively studying, as we know that this is very important to donors. Talk to your transplant team about any concerns that you might have and to get the most up-to-date information.
What can I do to protect my remaining kidney after donation?
Because we are still learning about the health of living kidney donors 5, 10, 15, or more years after donation, it is important that donors see a doctor every year and live a healthy lifestyle. High blood pressure can be managed by changing your diet, increasing your exercise, and taking medications. These steps can help prevent the complications of high blood pressure. Therefore, if you develop high blood pressure, it is best to know early.
1. 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.
2. Doshi MD, Goggins MO, Li L, Garg AX. Medical Outcomes in African American Live Kidney Donors: A Matched Cohort Study. American Journal of Transplantation 2013;13(1):111-118.