Nutrition takes center stage for people with chronic conditions

Posted: March 22, 2018 | Word Count: 612
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Nutrition is important for everyone. The proper vitamins and nutrients help the body stay healthy and function well. For people with chronic conditions, the right nutrition is essential in helping to ward off potential health hazards.

Depending on your state of health, some nutrients may be critical and too much of others can be toxic. For example, too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. For people with chronic kidney disease (CKD), too much potassium can be fatal.

The kidneys play a major role in maintaining potassium levels. For people with CKD, it's more difficult for the body to maintain the right levels of potassium and they are at risk of developing hyperkalemia, a condition in which someone has elevated potassium levels in their blood. Hyperkalemia is a serious condition and can pose major health risks, including irregular heartbeat.

Many people don’t even know that they have hyperkalemia and symptoms can be difficult to detect. According to the National Kidney Foundation, many people with high potassium have few, if any, symptoms. If symptoms do appear, they are usually mild and may include muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, nausea or other feelings.

High potassium usually develops slowly over many weeks or months; however, it can also occur suddenly. You may feel heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea or vomiting. Sudden or severe hyperkalemia is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical care.

If you have CKD or other chronic conditions or diseases, it's important to take your nutrition seriously. Here are three tips to help you take control of your diet:

Talk with your doctor

Talk to your doctor or a member of your health care team about proper nutrition and dietary changes that might help protect your kidneys. A simple call or checkup can provide a wealth of important information.

Your physician may even have you work with a nutritionist or dietitian who can guide you toward food that will help you stay healthy.

Consider medications

To manage a serious condition like CKD, it’s likely you are already taking a variety of medications. Some medications may affect how your body processes certain nutrients, so it's important to be aware of which medications you are taking and at what dosage. For example, some medicines like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and beta-blockers are frequently prescribed to people with CKD and heart failure, and these can cause hyperkalemia as a side effect.

If you are being treated with these medications, talk to your doctor to understand any risk you might have for hyperkalemia.

Watch what you eat

If you have a disease or chronic condition, being aware of what you eat is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure you get the right level of nutrients. Some people keep a food diary to track and record how certain foods make them feel. This can be a valuable resource for your health care team when reviewing your nutritional concerns.

For people with hyperkalemia, it's important to eat a low-potassium diet. You can still enjoy many foods, but you may need to make adjustments or eat certain foods in moderation. For example, fruits like bananas, melons and oranges are high in potassium. Instead, eat low-potassium options such as apples, grapes or berries. Your doctor can provide you with a reference list to keep on hand as you learn more about what to eat and what to avoid.

Make your kidney health a priority. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the link between nutrition and kidney health, and to design a diet and treatment plan that works for you. Understanding your particular dietary needs can help keep you and your kidneys healthy and thriving.

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