How African-Americans Can Get Better Kidney Care

What to do about racial disparity in kidney transplants

African American Father And Adult Son Relaxing In Park

Black men and women make up a little more than 13 percent of the U.S. population. But they make up more than 30 percent of Americans with kidney failure.

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“African-Americans are more likely to have diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Charles Modlin, MD,  kidney transplant surgeon and Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Minority Men’s Health Center. “Those conditions lead to kidney problems.”

Even worse: Black men and women are less likely to get kidney transplants.

Why black men get fewer kidney transplants

Black men are less likely to:

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  • Have a pre-transplant evaluation
  • Join a transplant waiting list
  • Receive a donor kidney

More often, they rely on kidney dialysis to treat kidney failure instead.

“African-Americans spend two to four times longer on transplant waiting lists,”  Dr. Modlin says.

It’s partly due to the U.S. system that matches donor kidneys with recipients, he says. The system considers genetics, among other criteria. Since up to 90 percent of donated kidneys are from white Americans, white recipients often are better matches.

What you can do

In 2014, the U.S. kidney matching system changed. Now it factors in a patient’s time on dialysis. This may be better for African-Americans — particularly those who didn’t join a waiting list right away.

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But we can do more, says Dr. Modlin.

If you’re black, talk to your physician about:

  • Steps to prevent kidney disease, including preventing or treating high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Screening for kidney disease
  • Joining organ donor registries

If you have kidney disease, ask your doctor about:

  • Early treatment options
  • Kidney transplant options, including the benefits of receiving a kidney from a living donor
  • Joining the National Kidney Registry and other programs, which can help you find a donor kidney more quickly

“We must work together to help everyone have better kidney health,”  Dr. Modlin says.

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