People who are married may be more likely to receive a deceased-donor kidney transplant when they need one, a new study reports.
Researchers found that people with kidney failure who were married or divorced (or separated) were more than 50% as likely to be placed on a waiting list for a new kidney as never-married people. Those who were married were also 28% more likely to receive the organ, relative to single people on the waiting list.
These findings make sense, Dr Laura Taylor of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing told - "being married tends to give you team support."
The waiting list
Many people on the waiting list for a new kidney are on dialysis, she said, which means they have to follow a complicated diet and medication regimen, and keep up with many appointments. A partner can help them with all of that, Taylor explained, keeping them healthier overall. And when an organ becomes available, they're in good enough physical shape to receive it.
Taylor, who did not participate in the study, is an expert in the use of computer-based information technologies in organ donation and transplantation.
To investigate whether marriage is linked to the odds of receiving a new kidney, the researchers looked at national data on 3,650 patients with end-stage renal disease whose records included information about their marital status.
Approximately 56% of those with kidney failure were married, while 14% were divorced or separated, and 30% were either widowed or had never married.
The authors were unable to include information on single-sex relationships, whether single people had unmarried partners or the quality of marriages, they noted in their report, published in the American Journal of Transplantation.
It's not clear why married or divorced people may fare better when it comes to kidney transplants, study author Dr Muhammad Khattak of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston said.
Previous research has shown married people often have better access to healthcare, and better health overall, which may render them "more qualified candidates for renal transplantation." Although this study focused on kidney transplant, it's possible the same trend is true for other organs, he added.
Of course, it's also possible that healthier people may be more likely to get and stayed married, in which case marriage itself offers no benefit to getting a transplant, noted Khattak.
Up to 20% of donated organs come from live donors. Here, too, being married can help, Taylor pointed out, since spouses may offer to donate a kidney. And even if a husband is not a match for his wife, they can participate in so-called domino transplants, in which the husband gives his kidney to someone unrelated, which "sets off a chain reaction of donation swapping," and the wife receives a kidney from someone else, she noted.
Even people who are divorced may still be close with their spouses and the friends from when they were married, giving them a "complex social network that can be relied on," she added.
Obviously, "we cannot advise people to marry," said Khattak. However, unmarried people and their doctors can try to ensure they receive quick referrals, good psychosocial support, and education about their health, Khattak said.
"There is nothing a single person can do or not do in terms of moving up the list besides staying healthy," added Taylor. (Reuters Health/ November 2010)