A tall man looks at the ground.
Study associates tallness with increased risk of premature death among dialysis patients. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Tallness may be linked with an increased risk for premature death in kidney failure patients on dialysis, a new study suggests.

While the researchers only found an association and not a cause-and-effect link, tall people on dialysis appeared to have higher rates of premature death than people in the general population. The risk was higher in men than in women, and among patients with shorter dialysis treatment times, the researchers said.

The researchers analyzed data from just over 1 million Americans who began dialysis between 1995 and 2008 and were followed for up to five years.

Being tall was associated with increased risk of premature death among dialysis patients who were American Indian/Alaska natives, Asians and whites, but this was not the case among black patients in the study. Tall black dialysis patients’ risk of premature death was the same as in the general population.

The higher risk of premature death among tall dialysis patients was not explained by the presence of other illnesses, differences in care or by socioeconomic status, the researchers said.

The findings, published online Oct. 1 in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, could prove valuable for kidney specialists, the researchers contended.

“Dialysis patients have extremely high premature death rates that are between 10- and 100-fold higher than in the general population, and height exerts an important quantifiable effect on dialysis patient survival,” said study author Dr. Austin Stack in a journal news release.

“It is an easily measured physical trait and our study shows that it is an important prognostic marker for survival,” said Stack, who is foundation chair of medicine at the Graduate Entry Medical School at the University of Limerick, Ireland, and a consultant nephrologist at University Hospital Limerick.

Dr. John Daugirdas, a nephrologist and clinical professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote in an accompanying editorial that the findings are intriguing but “at this point, it is not at all clear what the physiology of increased mortality risk associated with taller stature might be, nor how this new knowledge might affect clinical practice.”