How an RDN Can Help with Kidney Disease

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
RDN kidney disease

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The kidneys perform many important functions, including the removal of waste products and excess fluids, and the critical regulation of the body's protein, sodium and potassium levels. If the kidneys aren't working well, they don't filter blood properly, which means harmful substances can accumulate in the blood. Normal kidney function is necessary to maintain a stable balance of body chemicals. If you have kidney disease, a registered dietitian nutritionist can teach you how to choose foods that will ease the workload on your kidneys.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease usually is an irreversible and progressive disease that can lead to kidney failure over time if not treated. It is most commonly caused by uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure. An RDN can provide medical nutrition therapy to help manage kidney disease and maintain optimal nutrient intake.

What Is Medical Nutrition Therapy?

Medical nutrition therapy includes a lifestyle assessment, a thorough review of current eating habits and development of a personalized nutrition plan. These services are covered by a variety of insurance plans. Medicare Part B covers medical nutrition therapy for diabetes, non-dialysis kidney disease and 36 months post-kidney transplant; patients with private insurance should check their individual plan for specific coverage details. Many RDNs have received extensive training in this field and can provide these services — including nutrition assessment, education and counseling — to address specific dietary needs and individual preferences.

Why a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?

RDNs are food and nutrition experts who have completed multiple levels of training established by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. People with kidney disease likely will need to follow an eating plan with specific daily amounts of protein, sodium and potassium. Keeping those nutrient levels in check can help prevent progression of the disease. An RDN teaches patients how to eat well and manage this vital part of their health.

How Does the RDN Help?

People with kidney disease often need to adjust diet and lifestyle to help live a longer and healthier life. Because people with kidney disease often also have diabetes or high blood pressure, making these changes is good for overall health. Dietitians can provide more detailed information about how to eat and practical tips to address daily challenges.

A dietitian can help develop an eating and exercise plan that considers individual food preferences, level of physical activity, lifestyle and special needs to help accomplish disease management goals. An RDN can help people with kidney disease better understand basic dietary guidelines for renal insufficiency, and address nutritional concerns while preserving and maintaining kidney function.

What Should I Expect?

The length of a visit with an RDN may vary. The first visit typically will be an in-depth assessment, including a patient's food and nutrition habits, and review of laboratory information, medical history and psychosocial history. Data collected during this visit will provide the RDN with insight to help form a more comprehensive and customized nutrition care plan. Along with identifying nutritional areas of concern, the dietitian provides patients with education and assists in the creation of short-term goals to address these issues.

The RDN will determine an appropriate follow-up schedule to monitor progress. Each follow-up session will begin with a review of previous goals and an evaluation of what worked and what didn't work. Changes that may have occurred since the last visit will be addressed, and nutrition plans will be adjusted as necessary. The ultimate goal of an RDN's treatment for patients with kidney disease is to enhance their quality of life while protecting their kidney function.

Ask your medical provider for a referral to see an RDN.

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