Controlling Potassium When You Have Kidney Disease
Foods high in potassium, an essential mineral and electrolyte, offer health and nutrition benefits. Potassium helps muscles, including the heart, expand and contract, but for people whose kidneys can’t filter out excess potassium, its buildup can be deadly.
Many foods, like bananas, have potassium, but some have more than others. For the 37 million Americans living with kidney disease, the American Kidney Fund’s “Beyond Bananas” educational campaign stresses the importance of controlling and managing potassium levels for better health outcomes. High potassium, known as hyperkalemia, is one of the common and serious side effects of kidney disease.
If you have kidney disease, you are at risk for hyperkalemia because your kidneys can’t remove the extra potassium in your blood. This can be dangerous as high potassium can cause heart attacks or even death. However, some people do not feel symptoms of high potassium until it’s too late and their heart health worsens. If you do feel symptoms, some of the most common are tiredness or weakness, nausea, muscle pains or cramps, trouble breathing, unusual heartbeat and chest pains.
For those with kidney disease, high potassium is not just a measurement at a point in time but rather a chronic condition. Some of the most common causes of high potassium in those who have kidney disease are eating high-potassium foods, using a salt substitute that contains potassium, constipation, missing dialysis treatments and taking some medicines or herbal supplements. A food with 250 milligrams of potassium or more per serving is considered a high-potassium food. Some examples include bananas, grapefruits, dried fruits, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, beans, most meats and fish, dairy products, nuts and chocolate.
If you are on dialysis or your doctor recommends you eat low-potassium foods, aim for a daily potassium goal of 2,500 milligrams and no more than 3,000 milligrams per day. Low-potassium foods include cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, bread, rice and pasta. Your doctor or dietitian may adjust these goals to fit your needs.
High potassium can be controlled long-term by choosing the right foods, taking medicine and following simple tips such as these:
- Ask your health care provider and dietitian to help you create a potassium management plan.
- Call your insurance company to find out if your insurance plan covers nutrition counseling.
- Use a potassium food guide to help you select tasty, lower potassium food options.
- Find low-potassium recipes, such as those in the American Kidney’s Fund Kidney Kitchen.
- Download a potassium tracker to monitor how much potassium goes into your body every day.
- Talk to your health care provider about finding a potassium binder, a medicine that sticks to the potassium in your body and prevents some of it from being taken into your bloodstream.
To learn more and help manage your potassium, visit KidneyFund.org/beyondbananas.
American Kidney Fund