What Are The Complications Of High Potassium
Having too much potassium in your blood can be dangerous. Potassium affects the way your heart’s muscles work. When you have too much potassium, your heart may beat irregularly, which in the worst cases can cause heart attack.
If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 for emergency help.
Some of the most common signs of heart attack are:
- Feelings of pressure, pain, or squeezing in your chest or arms
- Stomach pain or nausea
How Do I Prepare
Your doctor may ask you not to eat for at least 6 hours before the test, and to drink only water.
Theyâll probably want to talk with you about your medical history and any medicines youâre taking. Some medicines may affect the results, so they might advise you not to take them before the test.
To do a test, a lab tech sticks a needle in a vein and takes a blood sample. Sometimes itâs hard to find a good vein, so they will tighten an elastic band around your upper arm and ask you to open and close your hand into a fist. The needle is attached to a tube, which collects the blood specimen.
This usually takes less than 5 minutes.
Blood tests are very common and have very few risks. However, any needle stick may cause bleeding, bruising, infection, or cause you to feel faint. Pay attention to the directions your doctor gives you, including applying pressure to the area and keeping it clean.
What Does A High Potassium Blood Level Mean
Hyperkalemia is usually due to:
- Metabolic disorders
- Kidney Failure: Kidneys cannot remove the extra potassium in the blood
- High intake of potassium
Potassium blood values are usually given in mEq/L but sometimes you can see these values in mmol/l following the International System of Units . Numeric values are similar in mmol/L or in mEq/L
Hyperkalemia or high potassium blood levels mean:
- Mild hyperkalemia :
Your potassium level is a bit high but if you do not have any other symptom it may be due only to an excessive potassium consumption.
If you feel weak and tired contact your doctor.
- Moderate hyperkalemia :
Your potassium level is moderately high and to make an appointment with your doctor is advisable. It can be a sign that the kidneys cannot remove enough potassium from the body.
You can have symptoms like weakness, fatigue, irregular heart rate or breathing problems.
- Marked hyperkalemia :
It is necessary to reduce this dangerous level so you need to visit your doctor as soon as possible.
- Severe hyperkalemia :
A potassium level of 7 mEq/dL or greater is a medical emergency requiring urgent treatment.
Severe hyperkalemia causes serious cardiac dysrhythmias and can lead to a cardiac arrest.
Very high potassium levels can be seen also in case of pseudohyperkalemia. This situation is a consequence of an improper technique during collection, storage, and transport of blood products. It requires a new blood sample to confirm a true hyperkalemia.
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What Is High Potassium Or Hyperkalemia
Everyone needs potassium to survive. Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte. It helps your muscles work, including the muscles that control your heartbeat and breathing. Potassium comes from the food you eat.
Your body uses the potassium it needs. Your kidneys remove the extra potassium from your blood. When you have kidney disease, your kidneys cannot remove extra potassium in the right way, and too much potassium can stay in your blood.
When you have too much potassium in your blood, it is called hyperkalemia, or high potassium. Having too much potassium in your blood can be dangerous. Hyperkalemia can even cause a heart attack or death! Unfortunately, many people do not feel symptoms of hyperkalemia until it is too late and their heart health worsens.
Manage your potassium levels with diet and treatment. Visit Kidney Kitchen® for kidney-friendly recipes, nutrient information, and guides to help you cook and shop.
How Much Potassium Do You Need
Along with understanding what causes high levels of potassium, you should make sure you only consume the daily recommended dose of potassium.
- For adults who are over 19, pregnant women and young people from 14 to 18 years of age, they should consume about 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day.
- Women who are nursing need about 5,100 mg.
- For infants and children up to 13 years old, the amount of potassium they need will depend on their age and weight, but it can be anywhere from 400 to 3,800 mg.
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When To Call Your Doctor
Because the effects of high potassium can be serious, its important to address this condition right away.
If you have extremely high potassium levels, youll need to stay in the hospital until your levels return to normal.
You may want to ask your doctor some of the following questions:
- How much potassium is right for me?
- What could be causing my high potassium level?
- What changes should I make to my diet to lower this level?
- If I need medication, will there be any side effects?
- How often will I need follow-up blood tests?
What Are The Symptoms Of High Potassium
Many people do not feel symptoms of high potassium. Having too much potassium in your blood can be dangerous. It can even cause a heart attack.
If you do feel symptoms, some of the most common are:
- Feeling tired or weak
- Feeling sick to the stomach
- Muscle pains or cramps
- Trouble breathing, unusual heartbeat, chest pains
If you have trouble breathing or think there could be a problem with your heart, call 911 for emergency help.
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Can It Be Prevented
Dietary changes can help prevent and treat high potassium levels. Talk to your doctor to understand any risk you might have for hyperkalemia. Your doctor may recommend foods that you may need to limit or avoid. These may include:
- asparagus, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes or tomato sauce, winter squash, pumpkin, cooked spinach
- oranges and orange juice, nectarines, kiwifruit, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, prunes and raisins or other dried fruit.
If you are on a low-salt diet, avoid taking salt substitutes.
High Potassium Levels In A Blood Test
Image from Abbott ci4100 Tour Footage
Potassium blood tests measure the amount of potassium in your blood. Potassium is an electrolyte, an electrically charged mineral in your body. Electrolytes are responsible for aiding muscle control and nerve activity, maintaining fluid levels, and performing other essential functions in cellular activity. You need the right amount of potassium in your body, so your heart and muscles work properly.
A potassium test can determine too low or too high levels, which could indicate an underlying medical problem. Providing reliable potassium level testing can help healthcare providers give the best care to their clients.
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Whats The Normal Amount Of Sodium In Your Blood
A normal level of sodium in your blood is between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per liter , which measures how much sodium is available to interact with other molecules in your blood, allowing it to effectively regulate your water levels.
How does sodium and potassium affect the heart?
Sodium and potassium have opposite effects on the heart. While we know that high salt intake increases blood pressure, high potassium levels lower blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels. Potassium activates nitric oxide to reduce pressure in the arteries, and thus,
Whats the difference between high and low potassium levels?
High level of potassium in the blood is known as hyperkalemia while the low level is termed as hypokalemia. Potassium helps in the functioning of muscles and channelizes information between the nerves and muscles. What Is A Potassium Blood Test? The potassium blood test is used to measure the potassium level in the serum.
Treatment And Medication Options For Hyperkalemia
The goal of hyperkalemia treatments is to remove excess potassium from your bloodstream and keep your potassium levels in a normal range. The treatment youll receive varies depending on the underlying cause and severity of hyperkalemia.
Your doctor may recommend staying away from salt substitutes and going on a low-potassium diet. Ask exactly how much potassium youll need to aim for, since the amount varies from person to person.
Your practitioner may also suggest changing certain medications that could affect your potassium levels.
You might also need to take medications to lower your potassium levels. These include:
- Diuretics Also know as water pills, these cause your kidneys to create more urine to flush out excess potassium.
- Potassium Binders This medication binds to potassium and keep it from building up in the bloodstream. Youll either swallow it as a powder mixed with water or take it as an enema .
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For People With Heart Failure
There are some drugs that heart failure patients take that are associated with hyperkalemia. These are: diuretics, beta-blockers and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors . For patients with heart failure on these drugs, if any symptoms are experienced as above, you should tell your doctor to make sure that the symptoms are not related to hyperkalemia.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Last Reviewed: Oct 31, 2016
What Causes High Potassium Levels
Potassium is an essential mineral vital to the proper functioning of the nerves and muscles in your body, including your heart. The normal levels of potassium in the body range from 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter. Having too much potassium in your body, which is known as hyperkalemia and measuredat more than 7.0 mmol/L, is dangerous and needs immediate treatment.
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Cardiac And Skeletal Muscle Effects
High levels of potassium cause abnormal heart and skeletal muscle function by lowering cell-resting action potential and preventing repolarization, leading to muscle paralysis. Classic ECG findings begin with tenting of the T wave, followed by lengthening and eventual disappearance of the P wave and widening of the QRS complex. However, varying degrees of heart block are also common.
Just before the heart stops, the QRS and T wave merge to form a sinusoidal wave.
Signs Of Deficiency And Toxicity
The kidneys work to maintain normal blood levels of potassium by flushing out excess amounts through urine. Potassium can also be lost through stool and sweat. At least 400-800 mg daily from food is needed because of normal daily losses. Any conditions that increase fluid losses beyond normal such as vomiting, diarrhea, and certain medications like diuretics can lead to a deficiency, called hypokalemia. Hypokalemia is most common in hospitalized patients who are taking medications that cause the body to excrete too much potassium. It is also seen in people with inflammatory bowel diseases that may cause diarrhea and malabsorption of nutrients.
It is rare for a potassium deficiency to be caused by too low a food intake alone because it is found in so many foods however an inadequate intake combined with heavy sweating, diuretic use, laxative abuse, or severe nausea and vomiting can quickly lead to hypokalemia. Another reason is a deficiency of magnesium, as the kidneys need magnesium to help reabsorb potassium and maintain normal levels in cells.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Hyperkalaemia
Although hyperkalaemia itself doesn’t usually have any obvious symptoms, you may notice some of the effects such as:
- Feeling very tired or weak
- Stomach pain or nausea
- Weakness in the arms and/or legs
- Unusual heartbeat or chest pains
These symptoms may develop slowly over several months. However, if you have CKD and are receiving dialysis, the symptoms can develop very quickly over just a few days. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
How Do I Know If I Have High Potassium
A simple blood test can find the level of potassium in your blood. If you are at risk, be sure you ask your healthcare provider about a blood test for potassium.
Many people with high potassium have few, if any, symptoms. If symptoms do appear, they are usually mild and non-specific. You may feel some muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, nausea, or other unusual feelings. High potassium usually develops slowly over many weeks or months, and is most often mild. It can recur. For most people, the level of potassium in your blood should be between 3.5 and 5.0, depending on the laboratory that is used.
If high potassium happens suddenly and you have very high levels, you may feel heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, or vomiting. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical care. If you have these symptoms, call 911 or go to the emergency room.
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Avoiding Herbal Remedies Or Supplements
While many people take herbal remedies or supplements to boost overall health, its best to avoid them if you have hyperkalemia. They may contain certain ingredients that are thought to increase potassium levels in the body, such as:
- calcineurin inhibitors for immunosuppressive therapy
- potassium-sparing diuretics, like spironolactone and eplerenone
- a commonly-prescribed antibiotic, trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole
Its important to talk with your healthcare provider about any and all medications you take to help determine the cause of your hyperkalemia.
If your hyperkalemia is caused by a medication you currently take, your healthcare provider may recommend changing or stopping that medication.
Your treatment plan may vary based on whether youre dealing with an acute episode of hyperkalemia or managing chronic hyperkalemia.
How High Potassium Is Diagnosed
A blood test can help your doctor diagnose hyperkalemia. Your doctor will routinely do blood tests during your annual checkup or if youve recently started a new medication. Any problems with your potassium levels will show up on these tests.
If youre at risk of high potassium, its important to have regular checkups. This is because you may not be aware you have high potassium levels until you start developing symptoms.
The typical goal of treatment for high potassium levels is to help your body get rid of the excess potassium quickly and to stabilize your heart.
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Why Might I Have Hyperkalaemia
Hyperkalaemia is common in people with kidney problems. Foods that we eat contain different amounts of potassium. Your kidneys help to remove excess potassium from the body in the form of urine . If you have chronic kidney disease , your kidneys are not working as well as they should, so they cannot get rid of the extra potassium you get from food. It therefore builds up in your blood.
Causes And Risk Factors Of Hyperkalemia
Hyperkalemia occurs when your kidneys can no longer properly remove enough potassium from your blood, causing a buildup of the mineral in the bloodstream.
Hyperkalemia is often linked to one of the following kidney conditions:
Chronic Kidney Disease
Acute Kidney Failure When your kidneys suddenly stop filtering your blood due to acute kidney failure, it can lead to the accumulation of dangerous levels of waste products, including potassium.
The following conditions have also been linked to hyperkalemia:
- Addison’s disease
- Alcohol use disorder , which can break down muscle fibers and release potassium in the bloodstream, according to the American Heart Association
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How Does Hyperkalemia Affect The Body
Potassium is a mineral that is crucial for normal cell function in the body, including heart muscle cells. The body gets potassium through foods.
The right level of potassium is key. The kidneys are primarily responsible for maintaining the bodys total potassium content by balancing potassium intake with potassium excretion. If intake of potassium far outweighs the kidneys ability to remove it, or if kidney function decreases, there can be too much potassium and hyperkalemia may occur.
Potassium and sodium concentrations play a crucial role in electric signal functioning of the hearts middle thick muscle layer, known as the myocardium. An above normal level of potassium can interfere with proper electric signals in that muscle layer and lead to different types of heart arrhythmias.
How Do You Diagnose High Potassium
Hyperkalemia often doesnt lead to any specific symptoms. So lab testing usually discovers it. Your provider might specifically order tests to check potassium levels, or a high potassium level could be an incidental finding on blood work intended for some other purpose.
When hyperkalemia does cause symptoms, they might include:
Tingling or numbness
Nausea and vomiting
Finally, sometimes changes on an electrocardiogram identify hyperkalemia. Potassium plays an important role in the way the heart beats, so hyperkalemia tends to cause very specific abnormalities on an ECG. So if you have an ECG that displays these changes, your provider will check your potassium levels.
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Moderate To Severe Hyperkalemia
For moderate to severe hyperkalemia, the potassium level must be reduced immediately. Doctors monitor the heart continuously during treatment. Calcium is given intravenously to protect the heart, but calcium does not lower the potassium level. Then insulin and glucose are given, which move potassium from blood into cells, thus lowering the potassium level in blood. Albuterol may be given to help lower the potassium level. It is inhaled.
Why Is Finding High Potassium Levels Important
Potassium blood tests are typically part of a routine blood panel called the electrolyte panel. These may be used to diagnose high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease, or to monitor chronic health conditions.
Testing for high potassium levels can help medical providers check for an electrolyte imbalance to narrow down a particular diagnosis. Potassium tests may check for metabolic acidosis, a higher level than normal of acid in the body. This can happen when the kidneys don’t remove enough acid from the body or when someone may not be managing their diabetes properly. Another reason that a doctor may order potassium testing is to determine the causes of a paralysis attack.
Potassium testing is also used as part of monitoring medication that can affect your body’s potassium levels, such as heart and high blood pressure medications and diuretics. And, potassium testing can help diagnose alkalosis, which is a condition when body fluids have higher than normal levels of alkali.
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