Hyperkalemia

Hyperkalemia is when you have too much potassium in your blood. This can be a life-threatening condition. Potassium is normally removed (excreted) from the body by the kidneys.

CAUSES

The potassium level in your body can become too high for the following reasons:

  • You take in too much potassium. You can do this by:

  • Using salt substitutes. They contain large amounts of potassium.

  • Taking potassium supplements from your caregiver. The dose may be too high for you.

  • Eating foods or taking nutritional products with potassium.

  • You excrete too little potassium. This can happen if:

  • Your kidneys are not functioning properly. Kidney (renal) disease is a very common cause of hyperkalemia.

  • You are taking medicines that lower your excretion of potassium, such as certain diuretic medicines.

  • You have an adrenal gland disease called Addison's disease.

  • You have a urinary tract obstruction, such as kidney stones.

  • You are on treatment to mechanically clean your blood (dialysis) and you skip a treatment.

  • You release a high amount of potassium from your cells into your blood. You may have a condition that causes potassium to move from your cells to your bloodstream. This can happen with:

  • Injury to muscles or other tissues. Most potassium is stored in the muscles.

  • Severe burns or infections.

  • Acidic blood plasma (acidosis). Acidosis can result from many diseases, such as uncontrolled diabetes.

SYMPTOMS

Usually, there are no symptoms unless the potassium is dangerously high or has risen very quickly. Symptoms may include:

  • Irregular or very slow heartbeat.

  • Feeling sick to your stomach (nauseous).

  • Tiredness (fatigue).

  • Nerve problems such as tingling of the skin, numbness of the hands or feet, weakness, or paralysis.

DIAGNOSIS

A simple blood test can measure the amount of potassium in your body. An electrocardiogram test of the heart can also help make the diagnosis. The heart may beat dangerously fast or slow down and stop beating with severe hyperkalemia.

TREATMENT

Treatment depends on how bad the condition is and on the underlying cause.

  • If the hyperkalemia is an emergency (causing heart problems or paralysis), many different medicines can be used alone or together to lower the potassium level briefly. This may include an insulin injection even if you are not diabetic. Emergency dialysis may be needed to remove potassium from the body.

  • If the hyperkalemia is less severe or dangerous, the underlying cause is treated. This can include taking medicines if needed. Your prescription medicines may be changed. You may also need to take a medicine to help your body get rid of potassium. You may need to eat a diet low in potassium.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Take medicines and supplements as directed by your caregiver.

  • Do not take any over-the-counter medicines, supplements, natural products, herbs, or vitamins without reviewing them with your caregiver. Certain supplements and natural food products can have high amounts of potassium. Other products (such as ibuprofen) can damage weak kidneys and raise your potassium.

  • You may be asked to do repeat lab tests. Be sure to follow these directions.

  • If you have kidney disease, you may need to follow a low potassium diet.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You notice an irregular or very slow heartbeat.

  • You feel lightheaded.

  • You develop weakness that is unusual for you.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have shortness of breath.

  • You have chest discomfort.

  • You pass out (faint).

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.