New Survey of People with Chronic Kidney Disease Finds High Potassium is Among Top Health Concerns

New York, NY—September 26, 2017— A new online survey conducted by National Kidney Foundation (NKF) to measure awareness of, and experience with, high potassium among people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) found that half (50 percent) said it was their most important health concern, second only to high blood pressure (62 percent). People with CKD are at increased risk of high potassium, a medical condition known as hyperkalemia in which the level of potassium in the blood is elevated. Although high potassium is treatable once diagnosed, if left untreated, it can impair the heart’s ability to function and can cause abnormal heart rhythms and even sudden death.  High potassium affects 3 million Americans but gaps remain in awareness and understanding of this serious medical condition.
Of the 488 adults with CKD who were surveyed:
  • 50 percent said high potassium is “very important” to them personally, more than heart disease (47 percent), anemia (47 percent), diabetes (39 percent) or high cholesterol (34 percent).
Yet, despite the survey participants’ concern about high potassium, results showed gaps in their awareness and knowledge of the condition.
  • About 80 percent of participants did not know their potassium level.
  • 30 percent had never heard of the term hyperkalemia.
  • 53 percent had no idea what the term hyperkalemia means. 
  • Even among those who have experienced high potassium, just 51 percent were familiar with the term hyperkalemia.
High potassium is often a chronic condition, with 68 percent of those surveyed living with high potassium for at least one year, yet 71 percent said they think managing high potassium levels is a short-term issue.
“Hyperkalemia is a serious health concern for people with chronic kidney disease.  This condition often creates a barrier to the effective treatment of high blood pressure, which is important in slowing the progression of kidney disease,” said Joseph Vassalotti, MD, Chief Medical Officer, National Kidney Foundation.  “Use of kidney-protective blood pressure medications, called ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, can be limited by hyperkalemia.  While it’s encouraging to see that half of CKD patients recognize hyperkalemia as an important health concern, the health care team needs to continue to educate patients on the significance of high potassium in the blood and its relationship to kidney disease.”
The National Kidney Foundation will conduct a Facebook Live event titled “Kidney Conversations: High Potassium and Your Kidneys,” sponsored by Relypsa, on September 29 at 2 pm ET on NKF’s Facebook page. The live event will be moderated by Leslie Spry, MD, medical director of the Dialysis Center of Lincoln in Lincoln, NE, and Laura Byham-Gray, PhD, RDN, FNKF, professor & vice chair for research at Rutgers University, who will discuss the importance of managing high potassium (for kidney patients), and answer questions from the live audience.
Additional Survey Findings
The survey also found that high potassium is common among people with CKD:
  • 19 percent said they have a potassium level that is currently high.
  • 66 percent have experienced high potassium at some point.
  • 18 percent said they have lived with high potassium for more than five years.
Regarding the treatment of high potassium, diet was the primary focus of treatment recommendations, although it is difficult to comply with. Among those surveyed who had experienced a high potassium level:
  • 85 percent said their doctor or nurse practitioner recommended they change their diet.
  • 69 percent said controlling high potassium with diet was their biggest challenge, primarily due to food constraints and the challenge of eating the right foods.
  • Only 37 percent received a recommendation to take a new prescription drug.
About the Survey
The online survey sampled 488 adults with CKD through a survey invitation email blast to NKF database subscribers and a survey invitation posted on NKF’s Facebook page. Responses were collected February 6-7, 2017, over a period of approximately 24 hours. Approximately 63 percent of those surveyed had a history of dialysis treatment.  This survey included a majority of patients who were treated with dialysis.  People with CKD not treated with dialysis should know that their risks of hyperkalemia, and particularly hyperkalemia emergency care, are real but probably lower than those cited in the survey.   The survey was developed in collaboration with Relypsa, Inc.  

About High Potassium (Hyperkalemia)
Approximately 3 million Americans with stage 3 or 4 CKD and/or heart failure have high potassium, or hyperkalemia. Potassium is an important nutrient found in many foods. It also helps nerves and muscles, including the heart, function properly. But too much potassium in the blood can be dangerous and can cause serious heart problems.
The most common causes of high potassium are kidney disease, a diet high in potassium, and kidney-protective blood pressure medications, known as ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, that are often prescribed to people with CKD and can cause high potassium as a side effect. Many people with high potassium have few, if any, symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and non-specific and can include muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, or other unusual feelings. If potassium levels increase rapidly and are very high, symptoms can include heart palpitations and serious heart rhythm disturbances. Sudden or severe high potassium is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical care. Learn more about high potassium.
Kidney Disease Facts
30 million American adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease—and most aren’t aware of it.  1 in 3 American adults are at risk for chronic kidney disease.  Risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and family history of kidney failure.  People of African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian or Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease.  African Americans are 3 times more likely than Whites, and Hispanics are nearly 1.5 times more likely than non-Hispanics to develop end stage renal disease (kidney failure).

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive and longstanding organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney diseaseFor more information about NKF visit