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Does Donating a Kidney Shorten Your Life?

Michael Lollo, NKR Chief Strategy Officer

If you are considering becoming a living kidney donor, you may be wondering if donating a kidney shortens your life or whether donating a kidney affects life expectancy.

In fact, multiple studies have shown that not only does donating a kidney not shorten your lifespan, living kidney donors actually tend to live longer than non-donors.

In a 1997 study of 430 living kidney donors in Sweden, 85% of donors were still living 20 years after donation. The expected survival rate in the general population was 66%, so the survival rate of living kidney donors was actually 29% higher.

A 2010 Johns Hopkins study, which tracked 80,347 living kidney donors in the United States over a 15-year period, showed that by 12 years after donation, the mortality rate among living kidney donors was significantly lower than the mortality rate among the general population. The 12-year-post-transplant mortality rate for living kidney donors was 1.5%, compared to 2.9% for the control group.

Why do living kidney donors tend to live longer? There are several reasons. First, potential kidney donors undergo rigorous medical screening, and only people in the best of health are accepted as donors. So living donors are already healthier than the general population before they donate, and would probably have lived longer anyway.

Second, living kidney donors tend to take excellent care of themselves post-donation. Undergoing donation surgery and living with a single kidney gives donors a heightened awareness of their own health and the importance of healthy habits. The tendency of living kidney donors to take extra good care of themselves by exercising, eating right, and avoiding poor habits like smoking and excess alcohol consumption, can translate to a longer life.

A third potential reason why living kidney donors often live longer is related to mental and emotional  health. Changing someone‚Äôs life by donating a kidney can be a very emotional experience, and many donors report an increase in feelings of well-being, self-esteem and optimism after donation.

In a 2015 study, researchers surveyed 2,455 living kidney donors about their emotional and psychological reactions to donation. Almost all (95%) rated their overall donation experience as good to excellent and 94% said they would donate again if they could.

The connection between emotional health and longer life is well-established, so being happier as a result of donation could actually extend the lifespan of kidney donors, as well as improve overall quality of life.