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Hyperkalemia

Hi-per-cal-e-me-uh

Definition

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.

Causes

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.

Risk Factors

Factors that may interfere with kidney function and lead to hyperkalemia include:

Kidney Damage


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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
Symptoms

Hyperkalemia may not have any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Tiredness
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
Diagnosis

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:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

An EKG will be done to see if the potassium is affecting your heart.

Treatment

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 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.
Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting hyperkalemia, manage risk factors such as diabetes.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.aafp.org

American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
http://www.aace.com

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism
http://www.endo-metab.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References:

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 May 14, 2013. Accessed January 8, 2014.

Hyperkalaemia. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/hyperkalaemia. Updated November 12, 2013. Accessed January 8, 2014.

Potassium and the diet. Colorado State University website. Available at: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09355.html. Published March 2013. Accessed January 10, 2014.



Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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