High potassium: causes, symptoms and diagnosis

What is hyperkalemia?

Potassium is an essential electrolyte, which is a mineral that your body needs to function properly. Potassium is especially important for nerves and muscles, including the heart.

Although potassium is important for your health, Much of the nutrient can be as bad as, or worse than, not getting enough. Normally, your kidneys maintain a healthy balance of potassium by eliminating excess potassium from your body. But for many reasons, the level of potassium in the blood can rise too high. This is called hyperkalemia or high potassium.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal range of potassium is between 3.6 and 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol / L) of blood. A potassium level greater than 5.5 mmol / L is critically high, and a potassium level greater than 6 mmol / L can be life-threatening. Depending on the laboratory, small variations in ranges may be possible.

Whether you have mild or severe hyperkalemia, you should receive immediate medical attention to avoid possible complications.


Several factors can cause hyperkalemia, including health problems and the use of certain medications.

Renal insufficiency

Kidney failure is the most common cause of high potassium. When your kidneys fail or do not work properly, they can not eliminate extra potassium from your body. This can lead to the accumulation of potassium.

Other health conditions

High potassium may also be related to certain health problems, such as:

  • dehydration

  • Diabetes type 1

  • Addison's disease

  • internal bleeding


Certain medications have been linked to high levels of potassium. These include:

  • certain chemotherapy drugs

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

  • angiotensin receptor blockers


Excessive use of potassium supplements can increase your potassium levels to a higher than normal or even dangerous range.

Use of alcohol or drugs

Excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs can cause your muscles to break down. This decomposition can release a large amount of potassium from the muscle cells into the bloodstream.


Certain types of trauma can also raise your potassium levels. In these cases, additional potassium is filtered from your body's cells into the bloodstream. Burns or crush injuries where a large number of muscle cells are injured can cause these effects.

Symptoms of high potassium

The symptoms of high potassium level depend on the level of the mineral in your blood. You may not have any symptoms. But if your potassium levels are high enough to cause symptoms, you may have:

  • tiredness or weakness

  • a feeling of numbness or tingling

  • nausea or vomiting

  • difficulty breathing

  • Chest pain

  • palpitations or irregular heartbeats

In extreme cases, high potassium can cause paralysis or heart failure. If left untreated, high potassium levels can cause your heart to stop.

When to call your doctor

Because the effects of high potassium can be serious, it is important to address this condition immediately. If you have any of the above symptoms and have been diagnosed with a high potassium level or have reason to think you have it, call your doctor immediately. If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

If you have extremely high potassium levels, you should be hospitalized until your levels return to normal.

How is it diagnosed

A blood or urine test can help your doctor diagnose hyperkalemia. Your doctor will perform blood tests routinely during your annual check-up or if you have recently started taking a new medication. Any problems with your potassium levels will be shown in these tests.

If you are at risk of having a high potassium level, it is important to have regular check-ups. This is because you may not know that you have high potassium levels until you begin to develop symptoms.


The typical goal of treatment for high potassium levels is to help your body get rid of excess potassium quickly and stabilize your heart.


If you have high potassium levels due to kidney failure, hemodialysis is your best treatment option. Hemodialysis uses a machine to remove waste from the blood, including excess potassium, when the kidneys can not filter the blood effectively.


Your doctor may also prescribe medications to treat your high potassium levels. These may include:

Calcium gluconate: Calcium gluconate can help reduce the effect that potassium has on your heart until high potassium levels stabilize.

Diuretics: Your doctor may also prescribe diuretics, which are pills that make you urinate more. Some diuretics increase the amount of potassium excreted by the kidneys, while others do not increase potassium excretion. Depending on your potassium level, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following types of diuretics:

  • loop diuretics

  • Potassium-sparing diuretics

  • thiazide diuretics

Each type of diuretic targets a different part of the kidneys.

Resin: In some cases, you may be given a medicine called a resin to take by mouth. The resin binds with potassium, which allows it to be removed from your body during bowel movements.

Home remedies for potassium reduction.

If your high potassium level is severe, you should receive treatment immediately. But if you have a high level of mild potassium, it can help reduce your potassium levels in the home. Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions to treat your high potassium content and talk to your doctor before trying these methods.

Reduce your potassium intake

One of the easiest ways to reduce your potassium levels naturally is to reduce the amount of potassium in your diet. This means limiting foods and supplements that are high in potassium. Some foods that are high in potassium include:

  • bananas

  • walnuts

  • Beans

  • Milk

  • potatoes

  • apricots

  • cod

  • cow meat

Talk to your doctor to get suggestions on the best diet plan for you. You can also ask for a referral to a dietitian or nutritionist.

Check your salt substitutes

Some salt substitutes are also high in potassium. When buying a salt substitute, be sure to avoid any potassium chloride as an ingredient. Foods that are rich in additives, such as commercial baked goods and sports drinks, are also usually rich in potassium.

Drink more water

Dehydration can worsen high potassium levels. Try to drink more water.

Avoid certain herbs

If you take herbs for any reason, keep in mind that there are some herbs that you should not take if you have high potassium levels. Alfalfa, nettle and dandelion can increase your potassium levels, so be sure to avoid them.


Because the symptoms of high potassium levels may not appear at the early stage, regular blood tests should be done if you are at risk for this condition.

If your blood tests show that you have high potassium levels, your doctor will choose the right treatment plan for you. If your levels are dangerously high, your doctor may prescribe hospitalization or dialysis. But if your potassium levels are slightly elevated and you do not have any other symptoms of hyperkalemia, your doctor may choose to control your condition and request a follow-up test.

In any case, with a rapid intervention, high potassium can be treated.

Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/health/high-potassium-hyperkalemia


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