(NBC) - A surprising new study is changing the way doctors treat their dialysis patients. This change could be the difference between life and death for young African-American patients.
Half a million Americans are on dialysis -- a process that mimics the role of the kidneys by removing waste, salt, and extra water from the blood.
"Conventional wisdom in the field of dialysis is that African-Americans do better on dialysis than Caucasians," said Dr. Dorry Segev, M.D., PhD, Transplant Surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
But a new study challenges that theory. Researchers looked at the medical records of over a million patients with advanced kidney disease. When they broke down the data by age, they were surprised to find the benefit did not apply to patients under age 50.
Dr. Dorry Segev led the study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
"The previous studies had masked the differences between the young people and the old people," Segev said.
The youngest African-American patients were actually twice as likely to die on dialysis when compared to their white counterparts.
Yet these patients were advised to stick with dialysis rather than try for a kidney transplant based on the old research, and that's something doctors say needs to change based on the new study.
"If you are African-American and young and on dialysis you need to pursue kidney transplantation," Segev said. "You need to look for a living donor, you need to pursue getting on a waiting list."
Doctors aren't sure why young African-American dialysis patients have such a large disadvantage. They say these patients may have less access to doctors because they're not old enough to qualify for Medicare and they are likely sicker than older African-American patients when they start dialysis.
Researchers say there are 50,000 African-American dialysis patients under the age of 50 in the U.S. and all should be impacted by this new study.
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