Here's some hopeful news for those who have kidney transplants: Long-term survival rates have improved over the past three decades, a review shows.
"There has been a gratifying improvement in kidney transplant survival, both for patients and the kidney graft itself, from 1996 to the current era," said review author Dr. Sundaram Hariharan, a senior transplant nephrologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The five-year survival rate of recipients who received kidneys from deceased donors increased from about 66% in 1996--1999 to just over 78% in 2012--2015. Survival increased from 79.5% to about 88% among recipients who received kidneys from living donors.
"These improvements have occurred despite unfavorable increases in obesity, diabetes and other conditions in patients and donors," Hariharan said in a university news release. "We have learned a lot through research and by taking care of kidney transplant patients."
Hariharan explained that improvements in tissue matching, organ distribution systems, surgical techniques, immune-suppressing medicines and after-transplant medical care have helped contribute to better survival rates.
Longer survival times not only benefit kidney transplant patients and reduce health care costs, they also mean more kidneys are available for the approximately 90,000 Americans waiting for a kidney transplant, the researchers noted.
The findings were published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Despite progress in U.S. kidney transplant patients' long-term survival, rates are below those of other developed nations. That's likely because immunosuppressant drugs are covered by Medicare for just three years after a transplant, according to the study authors.
Those drugs must be taken by transplant recipients for the rest of their lives to help prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ. A new law passed last year will eventually provide U.S. transplant recipients with lifetime coverage of these essential medications.
"The passing of this law is a great victory for kidney transplant patients, and we anticipate further improvements in long-term kidney transplant survival over the next decade," said Hariharan.
The authors also emphasized that COVID-19 is a serious threat to kidney transplant recipients, who have high death rates from the disease. COVID-19 vaccines can help reduce the rate and severity of infections, but they are less effective in transplant patients compared with the general population. A third booster dose of the vaccine may be beneficial for these people.
"It's also very important that kidney transplant patients follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing and masking," Hariharan added.
The National Kidney Foundation has more on kidney transplantation.
SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, news release, Aug. 18, 2021