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Alternative Names Return to topHigh potassium; Potassium - high
Definition Return to top
Hyperkalemia is a condition caused by higher than normal levels of potassium in the bloodstream.
Causes Return to top
Potassium is involved in regulating muscle tissue, and is part of digestion, metabolism, and homeostasis (maintaining a balance between the many electrical and chemical processes of the body).
Hyperkalemia occurs when the level of potassium in the bloodstream is higher than normal. This may be related to an increase in total body potassium or the excess release of potassium from the cells into the bloodstream.
The kidneys normally remove excess potassium from the body. Therefore, most cases of hyperkalemia are caused by disorders that reduce the kidneys' ability to excrete potassium.
Insufficient kidney function may result from disorders such as:
The hormone aldosterone regulates kidney removal of sodium and potassium. Lack of aldosterone can result in hyperkalemia with an increase in total body potassium. Addison's disease is one disorder that causes reduced aldosterone production.
Any time potassium is released from the cells, it may build up in the fluid outside the cells and in the bloodstream. Acidosis leads to the movement of potassium from inside the cells to the fluid outside the cells.
Tissue trauma causes the cells to release potassium. This trauma includes:
If the kidney is working properly, and there is enough aldosterone, tissue trauma alone rarely leads to hyperkalemia. A normally functioning kidney will remove the excess potassium that has been released from the cells.
Increased intake of potassium can cause hyperkalemia if kidney function is poor. Salt substitutes often contain potassium, as do many "low-salt" packaged foods.
Hyperkalemia may be caused by medications, including medications that affect kidney function (potassium sparing diuretics, such as spironolactone, amiloride, or triamterene) and potassium supplements (especially intravenous potassium).
Symptoms Return to top
Hyperkalemia often has no symptoms. Occasionally, people may have the following symptoms:
Exams and Tests Return to top
Treatment Return to top
Cardiac arrest (absent heartbeat) may occur at any time during the treatment of hyperkalemia. Hospitalization and close monitoring are required.
Emergency treatment is indicated if the potassium is very high, or if severe symptoms are present, including changes in the ECG.
The goal of acute treatment is to protect the body from the effects of hyperkalemia. Acute treatment may include:
Long-term treatment includes treating the cause of the problem and disorders associated with hyperkalemia.
Treatment of chronic renal failure may include:
People with kidney failure or a history of hyperkalemia should not use a salt substitute as part of a low-salt diet.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
The outcome with this condition varies. In some people, the disorder causes deadly complications, while others tolerate it well.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of hyperkalemia. Emergency symptoms include:
Prevention Return to top
Treat disorders that may cause hyperkalemia promptly. Monitor serum potassium if you have one of these conditions.
Your doctor should assess your kidney function before and while you take potassium supplements. You should not take these supplements unless you have adequate urine output and kidney function.Update Date: 11/12/2007 Updated by: Charles Silberberg, D.O., Private Practice specializing in Nephrology, Affiliated with NY Medical College, Division of Nephrology, Valhalla, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.