(BPT) - Anyone with a chronic disease knows the importance of monitoring personal health data to keep on top of one’s disease. If you suffer from heart disease, for example, you watch your cholesterol and blood pressure closely, and if you are diabetic, you monitor your blood sugar.
People suffering from reduced kidney function have important health measures to monitor — key among these is their potassium level. Not knowing and keeping track of this important health measure could have serious, and even fatal consequences.
The dangers of high potassium
A naturally existing mineral, potassium is an essential nutrient that helps your body regulate its fluid levels, balance other minerals in the cells and contract your muscles. Potassium can even help lower your blood pressure by warding off the potentially harmful effects of sodium.
However, like sodium, potassium can be harmful to the body if levels in the blood become too high. Because 90 percent of all excess potassium is released through the kidneys, people suffering from reduced kidney function or chronic kidney disease are at an increased risk of suffering from the complications of high potassium. The condition of high potassium is otherwise known as hyperkalemia, and failure to treat it can result in abnormal heart rhythms and even sudden death.
Despite the potential for serious complications, awareness and understanding of the dangers of high potassium remains low. A new online survey of 488 patients conducted by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and Relypsa Inc. finds that 50 percent of the respondents — all of whom have chronic kidney disease — said high potassium was very important to them personally, ranking ahead of heart disease and anemia, diabetes and high cholesterol. Yet while patients said their concern over their potassium levels was real, 80 percent stated they did not know their potassium level. Thirty percent had never heard the term hyperkalemia and 53 percent had no idea what it meant.
In addition, there was a clear gap in perception of the treatment needs associated with high potassium. Although 68 percent of those surveyed had been living with high potassium levels for more than a year, 71 percent felt that managing their high potassium levels was a short-term issue.
Establishing a baseline for future treatment
High potassium poses a potentially serious threat, and 38 percent of respondents report they have needed emergency care because of high levels of potassium in their blood. However, despite potential danger, symptoms of high potassium can be difficult to spot and are sometimes nonexistent. In cases where warning signs do appear, a person may feel shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea or vomiting, heart palpitations or muscle paralysis. However, an absence of any of these symptoms does not always mean a person's potassium levels are within healthy guidelines.
Patients who suffer from chronic kidney disease and other reduced kidney function complications are at an increased risk for high potassium complications and cannot ignore this potential danger. If you suffer from such a condition, talk to your doctor about the dangers of high potassium. A simple blood test can determine your current potassium levels and your doctor can help you develop a treatment regimen to lower and/or manage your potassium levels.
Make the call today. Because your potassium levels are simply too important not to monitor.