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What Are Phosphate Binders?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Phosphate binders are substances that bind phosphates in the bloodstream and remove them from blood circulation. Some examples of phosphate binders include calcium carbonate, calcium acetate, and aluminum hydroxide. These substances are frequently added to prescription medications and used to treat various medical conditions, particularly those affecting the kidneys or thyroid gland. Any questions or concerns about phosphate binders or whether they are an appropriate treatment option in an individual situation should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

Patients with impaired kidney function may be prescribed phosphate binders, depending on the results of blood tests. Phosphates are naturally occurring chemicals that are not easily processed by diseased kidneys. The majority of people who are treated with this type of medication have some degree of renal impairment, with many actually being in the final stages of kidney disease. Those with other medical conditions, such as hypoparathyroidism, may also benefit from the use of phosphate binders. Hypoparathyroidism is a relatively rare hormonal disorder in which the body has trouble properly regulating the amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the body.

In order to prevent large amounts of phosphates from entering the bloodstream, phosphate binders attach to to the phosphates in the digestive tract, eliminating them through the stool. These medications are usually taken every time that the patient eats, whether it is a full meal or a small snack, although some doctors may suggest taking the medication only when consuming foods that contain phosphates. This keeps the body from absorbing large amounts of phosphates from the food that is consumed. Calcium levels may also need to be monitored closely in those taking this type of medication. Kidney patients may also be advised to limit sodium and protein, although a doctor should always be consulted before making any dramatic dietary changes.

Aluminum-based phosphate binders are not prescribed very often, as aluminum has been found to have potentially hazardous side effects. Medications containing calcium are sometimes used, depending on the overall health of the patient as well as other medical concerns. There are newer medications available that do not contain aluminum or calcium and may be preferred for many patients. Some medications should not be taken along with this type of drug, so it is important for the patient to let the doctor know about any medications or herbal supplements being taken. The patient's doctor will be able to discuss the different medication types and help the patient decide on the most effective treatment options on an individual basis.

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