Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Hyperkalemia

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 bloodstream.

Genetic disorders may also increase the chances of hyperkalemia.

Kidney Damage

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Risk Factors  ^

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

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 (NSAIDS)
  • 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 glucose

Symptoms  ^

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

Diagnosis  ^

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Potassium can be measured with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

An ECG 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 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.

Prevention  ^

To help reduce the chances of hyperkalemia, manage risk factors and/or follow treatment plans for chronic conditions.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://www.familydoctor.org

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
https://www.aace.com

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

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

REFERENCES:

Hollander-Rodriguez J, Calvert J. Hyperkalemia. Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(2):283-290.

Hyperkalemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115641/Hyperkalemia. Updated June 13, 2016. Accessed March 26, 2018.

Hyperkalaemia in adults. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/hyperkalaemia-in-adults. Updated December 30, 2015. Accessed March 26, 2018.

Potassium and the diet. Colorado State University website. Available at: http://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/foodnut/09355.pdf. Accessed March 26, 2018.

Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 2/19/2014