Manage salt intake
People living with pulmonary hypertension often struggle with fluid retention. Sometimes you see this as ankle swelling or fullness in the abdomen, or weight gain on the scale, and at other times it may not be as visible, but we may know based on the numbers on a right heart catheterization or findings on an echocardiogram. This extra fluid can make you short of breath and make your heart pump blood less effectively.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines that help you get rid of extra fluid by urinating more. You can also reduce your risk of retaining fluid by minimizing salt intake. How does salt intake lead to fluid retention? The human body likes to maintain "homeostasis." This is a medical word that means the body should be in balance, with all electrolyte levels in range, including sodium. When a person takes in sodium in the form of a salty meal or foods that are higher in salt, the kidneys go into action to make sure the sodium level in the blood does not rise to dangerous levels by holding on to fluid and diluting out the sodium. This is why “water follows salt” and also how eating a diet lower in sodium may help reduce fluid retention.
What does it take to eat a diet lower in sodium? First, your PH team may provide you with diet goals for how many milligrams of salt and how much fluid to take in per day. That is a good starting point so try to follow these recommendations and track sodium and fluid intake.
Second, avoid salting your food and know the foods that are high in sodium. Olives, pickles, cheeses, and cured meats are usually high in sodium. Anything packaged or canned may also contain sodium. Restaurant food often has a lot of sodium, especially pizza, French fries, sandwiches, soups, tacos, burritos, and savory snacks such as chips and salted nuts. Looking at labels and looking up sodium content in milligrams or grams often becomes second nature for those who live with pulmonary hypertension.
Third, get as close as possible to eating healthy, real foods, as discussed earlier.
Is sodium the same thing as salt? Not exactly. Table salt is a food that contains sodium chloride, which is a mineral. There are other types of salt, like Kosher salt and Himalayan sea salt, but for all intents and purposes, the sodium chloride contents are not drastically different and salt is salt when it comes to minimizing sodium in the diet. This should also include spices or food additives that contain the word “salt” like garlic salt or seasoned salt.
For more information about sodium here are some resources from the CDC and FDA:
SourcesSodium in your diet