Hyperkalemia is a high level of potassium in the blood. Potassium is a mineral. It helps the heart, kidneys, and muscles work well. High levels can lead to problems with other minerals in the body.
Potassium enters the body through food and digestion. Excess potassium passes out of the blood through the kidneys. Hypokalemia happens when the kidneys cannot filter enough of it. This leaves too much potassium in the blood.
Common causes are:
- Kidney disease
- A high intake of potassium from diet or supplements
- Taking certain medicines
- Certain genetic problems, such as Addison disease
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Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
- Certain health conditions such as:
Taking certain medicines, such as ones used to lower blood pressure
Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:
- Muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling
Fast heartbeat and chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling that it is hard to breathe
- Chest pain
The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
This condition is diagnosed with blood and urine tests. More tests may be done to look for a cause.
Underlying causes need to be treated. The goal is to lower the potassium levels in the body.
Some people may need emergency care. They may have IV supplements and medicines. People with kidney failure may also need dialysis.
Options for those who do not need emergency care are:
- Dietary changes to lower potassium levels
- Medicines to lower the potassium in the body
- Changing or stopping medicines that are causing problems
Managing chronic health problems may lower the risk of this condition.
Hyperkalemia—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hyperkalemia-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed January 7, 2021.
Hyperkalemia (high potassium). American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/treatment-options-for-heart-failure/hyperkalemia-high-potassium. Accessed January 11, 2021.
Kovesdy C. Updates in hyperkalemia: Outcomes and therapeutic strategies. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2017 Mar; 18(1): 41–47.
Potassium and the diet. Colorado State University website. Available at: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/potassium-and-the-diet-9-355. Accessed January 7, 2021.
Last reviewed February 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/7/2021