Kidney Failure Among Black Men Gets Attention

Chicago police superintendent is on a transplant list

By Frederick H. Lowe

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson became wobbly and nearly collapsed during a January news conference held in a police precinct. Several  police officers and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also attended the event, rushed to help him. They sat him down and had him drink water. After a few minutes, the superintendent appeared to be fine.

It was later revealed that Superintendent Johnson was on the waiting list for a kidney transplant.

A potential life-threatening health event affecting a high-profile person under the glare of television cameras at a news conference has put the spotlight on kidney failure among black men.

High Rates of Kidney Failure

Johnson is African American and African-American men have increased rates of kidney failure because of undiagnosed or uncontrolled high-blood pressure, the leading cause of kidney failure among black men, reports the National Kidney Foundation.

The headline of an article posted on the Kidney Foundation’s website reported that “Black Men Most at Risk of Kidney, Cardiovascular Disease.”

“Among people diagnosed with kidney disease and high blood pressure, African-American men are least likely to have their blood pressure under control, putting them at risk of life threatening  complications,” according to an article published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, the official publication of the National Kidney Foundation, which has its headquarters in New York City.

The study included more than 10,000 people diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and high blood pressure, which can worsen CKD.

“African Americans with CKD progress more quickly to kidney failure, at which point they must receive a kidney transplant or regular dialysis to survive,” said O. Kenrik Duru, MD, the report’s lead author.  “These findings suggest that their higher risk of kidney failure may stem, at least in part, from higher rates of uncontrolled blood pressure.”

Allan J. Collins, MD, the study’s co-author , said: “If African-American men are more likely to develop kidney failure because they are more likely to have uncontrolled blood pressure, treating their blood pressure more aggressively may also protect their kidneys.” Police Superintendent Johnson blamed his near collapse on taking his blood pressure on an empty stomach.

The definition of uncontrolled blood pressure has been changing and patients are urged to take their blood pressure at home instead of a doctor’s office where the readings may be higher.

Booker T. Washington

High blood pressure, also called the silent killer, claimed the life of Booker T. Washington, the first president of Tuskegee College, now Tuskegee

Booker T. Washington died of kidney failure
Booker T. Washington died of kidney failure

University. Mr. Washington’s blood pressure was 225 over 145, nearly double the 120 over 80 considered by many medical practitioners to be normal. He died Nov. 15, 1915, of kidney failure caused by high blood pressure, according to a study released in 2006. He was 59.

Systolic pressure  is the top number and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure. Systolic is the amount of pressure it takes for the heart to squeeze blood to the body.  Diastolic is the amount of pressure when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood.

High blood pressure is 140 ( Systolic ) or higher or 90 or higher (Diastolic). Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds

Research has shown that African Americans with CKD progress five times more quickly to end-stage renal disease or kidney failure than whites.

The Harmful Effect of Natural Disasters on Kidney Dialysis

Kidney disease among African Americans has in the past gotten the attention of  Congressional Black Caucus Health Forum.

In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 Storm, destroyed some New Orleans neighborhoods, Steve Mitchell, a National Kidney Foundation patient advocate, told caucus members what effect a national disaster had on kidney dialysis patients.

Mitchell, a dialysis patient, said: “Thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina face homelessness and devastation, but kidney patients without access to dialysis face life-threatening danger in addition to loss of property.”

The National Kidney Foundation established a relief resource network that listed dialysis locations and treatment information.

Some 468,000 individuals are on dialysis, up from 275,000 in 2005. Dialysis is a treatment for kidney failure that removes waste and extra fluid from the blood, using a filter.

Improvement in Kidney Donations

There is some good news. At one time there was a disparity in kidney donations favoring whites over blacks. That disparity in recent years has disappeared due to policy changes made to eliminate the racial gap, according to the JAMA Internal Medicine. Kidney transplants among white and black patients are now at equal levels, JAMA reports.


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