It’s been established that when a person has kidney disease, one of the big concerns becomes the balance of their electrolytes – that is, the electrically charged elements that move through the blood to help the body perform vital functions. Keeping the calcium and phosphorus balanced in the body becomes especially important, because these two electrolytes play a major role in building bones and teeth, and also in conveying energy throughout the body. So what happens if they do go out of balance? How does this imbalance manifest itself?
Diseased kidneys can’t get rid of excess phosphorus, nor can they activate Vitamin D, meaning calcium levels drop. The thyroid triggers more calcium both to bring those levels up and to balance the excess phosphorus. This extra calcium is often leeched from the bones, making them weaker. And calcium phosphate deposits, made from all this extra material, begin latching onto soft tissue, including in the arteries, heart, lungs, and joints. Eventually these deposits start to harden, creating health problems related to the lungs and heart.
When this situation gets severe, it isn’t only the cardiovascular system that’s in danger. The leeching of calcium can make bones more bendable, and in the advanced stages of kidney failure, the jaw in particular becomes rubbery. Meanwhile, calcium phosphate deposits in other soft tissue creates inflammation that is hard to treat. And with the extra parathyroid levels, electrical impulses can’t travel properly along the nerves. This can lead to a patient being dazed and unresponsive.
Trying to maintain a low phosphorus diet can help somewhat, but it’s sometimes hard to avoid foods containing milk, whole grains, peas, etc. Doctors can also help by providing drugs that serve as phosphate binders. So it’s very important for people with even slight kidney problems to consult their physicians and keep checking their electrolyte levels.