By Alain Romero, Vice President, Head of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Relypsa, a Vifor Pharma Group Co.
While many healthcare professionals understand the danger of kidney disease, and how critical the organs are in our everyday lives, few understand one of the serious conditions that often occurs when kidneys begin to deteriorate and fail: electrolyte imbalance. Hyperkalemia, or excess potassium in the blood, is one type of imbalance, and it can lead to fatal arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). Hyperkalemia is a silent, but treatable, killer. These are five things everyone should know about this condition.
1. There are approximately 3.7 million people living with hyperkalemia in the United States.
This patient population — like many chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients — is often undiagnosed and growing, yet there are a limited number of resources and services for these patients who need them most.
2. Many people don’t even know they have hyperkalemia and symptoms can be difficult to detect until it is too late. The clinical presentation is vague because high potassium usually develops slowly over many weeks or months. Its consequences are devastating.
3. Hyperkalemia occurs when the kidneys are not functioning properly.
In these cases, the kidneys cannot effectively remove potassium from the body. This condition poses major health risks. If not treated, people with severe hyperkalemia are at risk for abnormal heart rhythms and even sudden death.
4. People with conditions such as CKD or heart failure are at the highest risk for hyperkalemia.
People with these conditions are often prescribed medications that can actually exacerbate hyperkalemia. Managing patients at risk for hyperkalemia has long been a challenge for doctors.
5. There are different options to treat hyperkalemia.
These can be determined by the patient’s health care team. In addition to pharmacological treatments or dialysis, dietary restriction of potassium is an important component of managing hyperkalemia. Maintaining a low-potassium diet can be challenging for CKD patients, since this often conflicts with the diet recommendations for patients at risk of cardiovascular disease.
Though gaps in awareness, data and education remain, Relypsa understands the challenges in treating the condition and we’re making progress in changing the care paradigm for patients with hyperkalemia. Newer medications for hyperkalemia now exist, providing patients and physicians with treatment options. This is an exciting journey for our patients, for our healthcare professionals, for our partners and for us. Every day, every employee at Relypsa is focused on helping patients around the world lead better and healthier lives.
We are seeing a groundswell of support from policymakers, regulators, academia, payers and industry working collaboratively to raise the standard of care for patients with kidney disease, and it is my hope that this will also transform the way we approach this condition. We look forward to collaborating with experts to highlight these important issues. Follow us at @Relypsa on Twitter as we continue to work with the community affected by this condition, including patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals.
Click here to learn more about hyperkalemia.
Alain Romero is the Vice President, Head of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Relypsa, a Vifor Pharma Group Co. Alain joined Relypsa in August 2015 with 25 years of experience in clinical research and development, medical affairs and business development. He has led clinical programs across a wide range of therapeutic areas, including drug delivery, anti-infectives, neuroscience, cardiovascular and respiratory medicine, resulting in the successful filing and launch of several novel pharmacological treatments.