Short adults are much less likely than average-height adults to get a lung transplant, and they’re more likely to die while waiting for one, the findings from a new study suggest.
Women are particularly affected by this bias because they tend to be shorter than men, the researchers said.
“Surgeons commonly try to match small transplant candidates with small donor lungs, because they believe it leads to better outcomes,” study leader Dr. David Lederer, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said in a medical center news release.
“But the latest evidence indicates that this approach causes short people to get fewer transplants and have worse outcomes. Small recipients can cope with larger lungs, and surgeons can reduce the size of lungs before transplant, with good results. So, there’s no scientific or medical reason for this bias against shorter people,” he noted.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 13,000 adults who were potential lung transplant patients. They were all placed on the lung transplant waiting list in the United States between 2005 and 2011.
Shorter people — under five feet, four inches — were 34 percent less likely to receive a transplant than taller folks between five feet, seven inches and five feet, nine-and-a-half inches, the study found.
Shorter patients were 62 percent more likely to die than their taller peers while on the waiting list, and they were also more likely to be removed from the list because their health deteriorated, the study showed. And, shorter adults were 42 percent more likely to suffer respiratory failure while on the waiting list, the study revealed.
The study was published online Nov. 16 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
“Our data suggest that it may be time to revise how we prioritize transplant candidates, to ensure equal priority is given to people of shorter stature,” lead author Jessica Sell, a data analyst at Columbia University Medical Center, said in the news release.
“Addressing the height disparity might also help correct the gender disparity that is evident in waiting list outcomes as well,” she added.
In 2014, 1,880 adults and 45 children had lung transplants in the United States, and almost 2,600 people were added to the waiting list, the researchers said. As of April, 2015, there were more than 1,600 people awaiting a lung transplant, they noted.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about lung transplantation.