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Same-Sex Heart Transplant Patients Survive Longer

November 13, 2008

US researchers said on Wednesday that men and women who get heart transplants are more likely to die when the donor was of the opposite sex.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said the cause is not clear but could be due to size differences in the heart, as men’s tend to be larger. It could also be certain hormonal and immunological factors.

The federal government paid for the study that was led by Dr. Eric Weiss, a cardiac surgery researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

They announced at an American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans that patients who got a heart transplant from a donor of the opposite sex had a 15 percent higher risk of death compared to those whose donor was the same sex.

The United Network of Organ Sharing, which administers the U.S. organ donation system, provided the data on 18,240 people who got a heart transplant from 1998 to 2007.

UNOS said about 2,700 Americans are waiting for a heart, and only 2,200 heart transplants are done each year – some of them second operations for people whose first transplant failed.

They said the lowest survival rate was in men who got a donor heart from a woman.

Men who received a transplanted heart from a female donor also were more likely to experience organ rejection. Women getting a male donor heart were no more likely to have organ rejection than if the heart came from another woman.

The researchers said the findings indicate that if a choice is available, doctors should give a transplant patient a heart from a donor of the same sex.

They added that if that is not possible because of the limited availability of donor hearts, patients should go ahead and get a transplant from the opposite sex donor because any transplant is far better than heart failure.

Weiss said that one of the messages that we don’t want to give is that people should be waiting for a same-sex transplant, because the rate of survival is clearly superior having a transplant to not having a transplant whether you get your transplant from the same sex or the opposite sex.

There are not enough donor hearts for every person who needs one and many people die while awaiting a transplant.

“I would hesitate to have patients think that somehow, because they get a transplant from the opposite sex, that it condemns them to death,” said Weiss.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 2,000 heart transplants are performed in the United States each year, with men making up about three quarters of the patients.

The five-year survival rate after a heart transplant is 72 percent for men and 68 percent for women.

During the operation, doctors remove a damaged or diseased heart and replace it with a healthy one from a dead donor. The first heart transplant was performed in 1967.

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