Your kidneys are your body’s filtration system, removing waste from your blood.
Living with diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure can strain your kidneys and increase your risk of developing kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of kidney function.
Maintaining a moderate weight is important to reduce your risk of these conditions and protect your kidneys. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are key to managing your weight.
Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. They’re also high in potassium.
Your kidneys may not be able to process excess potassium if you have chronic kidney disease. Eating too much potassium can result in dangerously high potassium levels in your blood.
Here’s how to manage your potassium levels if you have or are at risk of developing chronic kidney disease.
Potassium is a mineral that helps your body balance fluids and supports the function of your cells, nerves, and muscles. It’s found in varying levels in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
It’s important to have the right balance of potassium in your blood. Levels should generally remain between 3.5 and 5.0 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L).
Getting enough potassium in your diet supports the muscles controlling your heartbeat and breathing.
It’s also possible to consume more potassium than your kidneys can filter from your blood, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms.
Chronic kidney disease increases your risk of high blood potassium levels, known as hyperkalemia. It’s important to monitor your potassium intake if you have chronic kidney disease.
Your kidneys remove excess potassium from your blood and excrete it in your urine. Chronic kidney disease can reduce your kidney’s ability to eliminate extra potassium in your bloodstream.
Untreated hyperkalemia interferes with electric signals in the heart muscle. This can lead to potentially dangerous abnormal heart rhythms.
Keep in mind that other factors can increase your risk of hyperkalemia. For example, medications used to treat high blood pressure (beta-blockers and blood thinners) can cause your kidneys to hold on to extra potassium.
Many people notice few if any signs of hyperkalemia. High potassium levels can develop gradually over weeks or months.
Symptoms can include:
- muscle weakness
- abdominal cramps
- numbness or tingling
- a weak or irregular heartbeat
Sudden and severe high potassium levels may cause:
- chest pains
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
It can be life threatening. Call a doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms.
If you have chronic kidney disease, your doctor may recommend limiting high potassium fruits and vegetables to reduce your risk of hyperkalemia.
It’s also important to eat these foods as part of a healthy diet to maintain a moderate weight. A registered dietitian can help you find the right balance.
Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. But you may need to limit those that are high in potassium, including:
- cooked spinach
- dried fruit such as prunes and raisins
- honeydew melon
- winter squash
Focus on eating low-potassium fruits and vegetables instead. These include:
- bell peppers
- green beans
- mashed potatoes
- summer squash
Other tips to maintain a healthy potassium blood level with chronic kidney disease include:
- Cutting back on dairy products or choosing dairy alternatives like rice milk.
- Avoiding salt substitutes.
- Reading food labels for potassium levels and pay attention to serving sizes.
- Maintaining a regular dialysis schedule.
Your doctor may recommend the following strategies to help you maintain a healthy potassium level:
- Low potassium diet. Work with your doctor or a dietitian to create a meal plan.
- Diuretics. These medications help expel excess potassium from your body through your urine.
- Potassium binders. This medication binds to excess potassium in your bowels and removes it through your stool. It’s taken by mouth or rectally as an enema.
- Medication changes. Your doctor may change the doses for heart disease and high blood pressure drugs.
Always talk to your doctor before stopping, starting, or changing the dosage of medications or supplements.
Potassium is an important mineral for nerve, cell, and muscle function, but it’s also possible to get too much potassium.
Kidney damage from chronic kidney disease can affect how well your kidneys remove extra potassium from your blood. High levels of potassium in the blood can be dangerous.
If you have chronic kidney disease, talk to your doctor about what a healthy diet looks like for you and whether medications can help manage your potassium levels.