Potassium is a mineral that is needed to help the heart, kidneys, and other organs function. Hyperkalemia is higher than normal levels of potassium in your blood.
Potassium is needed to regulate water and mineral balance throughout the body. High levels can disturb the balance of other minerals in the body and cause muscle problems throughout the body. It can also affect the heart’s ability to function properly.
Excess potassium is normally taken out of the blood through the kidneys. Kidney problems or conditions that affect the kidneys’ ability to filter can cause excess potassium in the blood.
Cancer treatments can also cause hyperkalemia as cells are destroyed and potassium moves into the blood stream.
Genetic disorders may also increase your risk of hyperkalemia.
Factors that may interfere with kidney function and lead to hyperkalemia include:
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Factors that may increase your intake of potassium include:
- Excess potassium supplements
- Total parenteral nutrition
- A diet that is high in potassium
Certain medication may increase potassium levels:
- ACE inhibitors
- Potassium sparing diuretics
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Beta blockers
Other factors that may increase potassium levels:
- Low blood volume from dehydration
- Any illness that increases the acid in the blood, such as diabetic ketoacidosis
- Destruction of any tissue such as muscle or tumor cells
- Very high blood sugar
Hyperkalemia may not have any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Muscle weakness or paralysis
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Bodily fluids will be tested to determine potassium levels. This can be done with:
An EKG will be done to see if the potassium is affecting your heart.
Treatment is focused on decreasing blood potassium levels. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Supplements and Medications
Because hyperkalemia can result in irregular heartbeat, you may be given calcium to protect your heart muscles from damage.
Your doctor may also advise medications to lower the potassium in your blood or body. These may include insulin and/or beta agonist therapy, sodium polystyrene sulfonate, or certain diuretics.
Your current medications may be changed if they are the cause of your hyperkalemia.
Other Supportive Steps
Other treatment specific to the cause include:
- Your doctor may advise you to limit your intake of potassium. You may be referred to a dietitian.
- Dialysis may be needed in severe cases of hyperkalemia due to kidney failure. Dialysis can take over the job of the kidneys and filter excess potassium from the blood.
To help reduce your chance of getting hyperkalemia, manage risk factors such as diabetes.
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
The Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism
Hollander-Rodriguez J, Calvert J. Hyperkalemia. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Jan 15;73(2):283-290.
Hyperkalemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 20, 2015. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Hyperkalaemia. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/hyperkalaemia. Updated November 12, 2013. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Potassium and the diet. Colorado State University website. Available at: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09355.html. Updated August 5, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2015.