Study Suggests that Many African-Americans with Kidney Failure May Delay

New York, NY
May 11, 2006

NEW YORK, NY – African-Americans who need a kidney transplant are more likely than other patients to deny it, potentially putting their lives at risk by postponing their request for a new organ, according to new study findings published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, the official journal of the National Kidney Foundation.

The researchers found that African-Americans tended to cope differently from other patients with a diagnosis of kidney failure, and were more likely to exhibit certain unhealthy coping strategies – such as denying they need a new kidney, and choosing not to accept the situation.

“People need to know that if they or someone they love has been diagnosed with kidney failure, and they are not facing the situation, they are putting their health at serious risk,” says Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, Chief Medical Officer of the National Kidney Foundation.

When people are diagnosed with kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease (ESRD), they must either receive a transplant or begin dialysis, during which they typically spend several hours per week hooked up to a machine that clears the blood of toxins. Kidney failure is almost twice as common among African-Americans as other groups, a pattern that inspired the researchers to look specifically at how African-Americans handle the diagnosis.

During the study, researchers led by Dr. Prabhakar Balinga of the University of South Carolina administered surveys designed to measure coping strategies to 333 people in kidney failure, 61% of whom were African-Americans.

The researchers found that African-Americans coped differently from others in several ways -- they were more likely to deny they needed a new kidney, less likely to accept the situation, and more likely to “give up” dealing with their diagnosis. They tended also to shy away from using humor as a coping strategy, which studies have shown can lessen the impact of stressful situations. Overall, people who employed more healthy means of coping with their diagnosis were more likely to ask for a transplant.

Encouragingly, African-Americans were more likely to use religious beliefs to deal with kidney failure, which some research suggests can help ease depression and improve quality of life. African-Americans were also just as likely as other patients to turn to the people around them for emotional support, a technique that was associated with increased odds of asking for a transplant, the researchers found.

“These findings suggest that healthcare professionals need to make sure that all of their patients diagnosed with kidney failure are coping with their diagnosis in a healthy way,” says Vassalotti. “The more we understand how African-Americans respond to a diagnosis of kidney failure, the more we improve their chances of living many more years.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 452,000 Americans are being treated for kidney failure, also called end stage renal disease, or ESRD. Of these, more than 324,000 are dialysis patients and more than 128,000 have a functioning kidney transplant. Over the last five years, the number of new patients with kidney failure has averaged more than 90,000 annually. The annual cost of treating kidney failure in the U.S. is approximately $17.9 billion. Currently, more than 67,000 deaths occur each year as a result of kidney failure.