Medicine Information

Potassium and The Dialysis Patient


Any dialysis patient who has had a brush with high potassium will know only too well how dangerous this can be. We are forever being told to watch our potassium intake, so I thought I would explore the reasons for this, and what practical steps we can take to limit the risks.

For your cells to function properly, it is important that you maintain the right level of potassium, unfortunately, for those of us with kidney disease, there is no way for our bodies to rid themselves of this potassium. As too high a level of potassium can cause muscle weakness, affect the heart rhythm and may even cause death, it is critical that we manage our intake carefully, in consultation with our dietician, clinical nurse, and renal specialist.

Some signs that your potassium may be too high might include, but are not limited to: nausea, diarrhea, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeat. If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact your healthcare provider, or take yourself off to the nearest hospital - post haste!

So it's all well and good to know that a high potassium level is dangerous, and what the symptoms are and what to do if we experience the symptoms, but what can we do to avoid this danger? Well I'm glad you asked!

Whilst some external factors affect the level of potassium in the blood of a dialysis patient, the one major thing that you can do is to manage your diet. Avoid foods that are high in potassium, and you stay out of the danger zone. It's as simple as that!

"So what are these foods I should be avoiding?" I hear you ask. Whilst this list provides some of the foods that may put you into the danger zone, it is by no means a comprehensive list. It should also be noted here that very few foods should be considered completely "off limits", just because you are on dialysis, doesn't mean that your life must stop and that you shouldn't be able to enjoy some of it's finer offerings.

The list: All meats, poultry and fish,. apricots (fresh more so than canned), avocado, banana, cantaloupe, honeydew, Kiwi Fruit, lima beans, milk, oranges and orange juice, potatoes, prunes, spinach, tomatoes, vegetables and vegetable juice .

Your next question should be: "But that seems like a lot of vegetables, what can I do to lower the potassium level in vegetables?" I'm glad you asked again! To lower the content in vegetables, simply cut the vegetables up into small pieces, and boil them well in a saucepan then drain them thoroughly.

Hopefully this has given you some idea of what symptoms to look out for, what foods to avoid, and generally how to live with a low potassium diet. For more information, talk to your dietician, clinical nurse, or doctor.

About the author: Stuart Drew is a 34 year old dialysis patient from Adelaide, Australia. He has a wilfe, a son (with another on the way), and two miniature schnauzers. He is a part time web geek, and runs the website therenalunit.com - a news service for all issues relating to kidney disease and dialysis. He can be contacted at stuart@stuartdrew.com


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