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by Scholten A

Hyperkalemia

Definition

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.

Causes

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
Kidney Damage
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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

Symptoms

Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling
  • Fast heartbeat and chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling that it is hard to breathe
  • Chest pain

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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

Prevention

Managing chronic health problems may lower the risk of this condition.

RESOURCES

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
https://www.aace.com
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://www.familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

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

References

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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
  • Review Date: 02/2020
  • Update Date: 01/07/2021
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