Making Sense of Your Laboratory Values

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Lauren Phillips, MS, RD, LDN

Renal Dietitian

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Keeping nutrition related laboratory values straight can be an overwhelming task even for the most seasoned people with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) or End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). The following is a quick reference guide to a few of the most common nutrition related laboratory values.

Albumin – maintaining albumin within goal helps the immune system fight infection and inflammation, build muscle, and improve healing time after surgeries/injuries.

  • Possible causes for low albumin include inflammation, liver disease, infection, malnutrition, fluid overload, and surgery.
  • This will usually appear on your lab report as albumin.
  • On your lab report, the goal for albumin is generally 3.5-5.5 g/dL.
  • If your albumin is out of range, talk with your nephrologist and dietitian about what might be causing a low albumin and decide on the best plan of action to get your albumin level to goal.
  • Your nephrologist or dietitian may recommend increased protein intake depending on the cause of your low albumin result and whether you have CKD or ESRD.

Calcium – maintaining calcium within goal helps muscles and nerves work the way they should for you.

  • Possible causes for high calcium include overeating on foods and drinks high in calcium and other potential health issues.
  • Possible causes for low calcium include being post parathyroidectomy, high phosphorus level, rickets, and vitamin D deficiency.
  • This may appear on your lab report as calcium, Ca, or Ca++.
  • On your lab report, the goal for calcium is generally 8.4-10.2 mg/dL.
  • If your calcium is not at goal, talk with your nephrologist and dietitian the best plan to get your calcium back in range.
  • Your nephrologist or dietitian may recommend different levels of calcium intake depending on whether you have CKD or ESRD.

Phosphorus – maintaining phosphorus within goal helps form healthy bones and helps keep the heart  healthy.

  • Possible causes for high phosphorus include kidney disease, overeating foods and drinks high in phosphorus, not taking phosphorus binders, and other potential health issues.
  • Possible causes for low phosphorus include hyperparathyroidism, high calcium level, rickets, and malnutrition.
  • This may appear on your lab report as phosphorus, phosphate, P, or PO4.
  • On your lab report, the goal for phosphorus is generally 3.0-4.5 mg/dL.
  • If your phosphorus is out of range, talk with your nephrologist and dietitian about the best way to get your phosphorus back to normal – this may include utilizing a type of medication called phosphorus binders.
  • Your nephrologist or dietitian may recommend different levels of phosphorus intake and/or phosphorus binder amounts depending on whether you have CKD or ESRD.

Potassium – maintaining potassium within goal helps the heart and muscles work as they should for you.

  • Possible causes for high potassium include kidney disease, dehydration, overeating foods and drinks high in potassium, and certain medications.
  • Possible causes for low potassium include not eating enough foods or drinks with potassium, trauma/surgery, diarrhea, vomiting, consuming licorice.
  • This may appear on your lab report as potassium or K+.
  • On your lab report, the goal for potassium is generally 3.5-6.0 mEq/L.
  • If your potassium is out of range, talk with your nephrologist and dietitian about the best plan to get your potassium back to normal.
  • Your nephrologist or dietitian may recommend different levels of potassium intake depending on whether you have CKD or ESRD.

Sodium – maintaining sodium within goal helps the muscles and nerves to work and helps regulate blood pressure

  • Possible causes of high sodium include increased sodium intake (dietary or IV), excessive sweating, and extensive burns.
  • Possible causes of low sodium include decreased sodium intake (dietary or IV), drinking too much fluid, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • This may appear on your lab report as sodium or Na+.
  • On your lab report, the goal for sodium is generally 136-145 mEq/L.
  • If your sodium is out of range, talk with your nephrologist and dietitian the best way to get your sodium back to normal.
  • Your nephrologist or dietitian may recommend different levels of sodium intake depending on whether you have CKD or ESRD.

The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. KidneyChef urges you to seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. KidneyChef advises you to never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Website.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or local emergency service immediately. KidneyChef does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the website. KidneyChef does not guarantee the accuracy of information on the Website and reliance on any information provided by KidneyChef is solely at your own risk.

Resources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2474786/

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diet-nutrition

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002062.htm

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002424.htm

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002413.htm

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002415.htm

https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/getting-more-protein-while-dialysis

https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/hyponatremia

Pocket Guide to Nutrition Assessment of the Patient with Kidney Disease – A Concise, Practical Resource for Comprehensive Nutrition Care in Kidney Disease 5th Edition, Linda McCann, RDN, CSR, Editor

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