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High Potassium or Hyperkalemia: Meaning, Symptoms, Causes, and Other Details

Team AckoJan 18, 2024

Potassium is an essential mineral that works as an electrolyte and supports the functioning of your muscles, especially the ones that regulate your respiration and heartbeat.

It is usually obtained from the foods we consume.

While the required amount of Potassium is utilised by your body, the extra part in your blood is removed by your kidneys.

If your kidneys are unable to eliminate it properly, then too much potassium can build up in your blood leading to Hyperkalemia or High Potassium.




What is Hyperkalemia?

Hyperkalemia is a medical disorder that involves an excess of Potassium in the blood. Normally, the kidneys of your body can regulate the Potassium (PTS) level. However, if the kidneys don't function properly due to any medical condition, they fail to flush out the extra PTS from the body, and its level goes too high in your blood.

Usually, normal PTS serum levels range between 3.5 and 5 millimoles per litre, while readings above 5.5 mmol/l signify Hyperkalaemia. A level of more than 6.5 mmol/L might induce serious heart issues that necessitate emergency medical intervention.

Potassium is one of the seven vital macro-minerals required for a healthy body. It is essential for the proper functioning of the kidneys, heart, and muscles and the transmission of information through the neurological system. While mild Hyperkalemia typically remains undetectable, excessive levels can result in potentially fatal conditions such as cardiac arrhythmia, muscular weakness, or even paralysis.

What causes Hyperkalemia?

High Potassium levels can be caused by several factors, which may include the following.

1. Chronic kidney disease

You get PTS through the foods and liquids you consume. It is utilised by your body as required, and the extra PTS is excreted through the urine after being filtered by the kidneys. Hyperkalemia may occur if your kidneys do not function efficiently and fail to excrete excess PTS.

2. Medications

Certain drugs may inhibit the kidneys' ability to eliminate excess PTS.

3. Congestive heart failure

This is a chronic illness that affects your heart's ability to pump blood. Approximately 40% of individuals with CHF get elevated Potassium levels. One of the possible causes may include the drugs used to treat CHF, such as angiotensin II receptor blockers, beta-blockers, and diuretics. These drugs can impair the kidneys' ability to eliminate PTS.

4. Hypoaldosteronism

This rare disease causes a deficiency of aldosterone. Aldosterone is a hormone that regulates the quantity of Potassium excreted by the body in the urine.

5. Alcoholism

Heavy alcohol consumption might induce rhabdomyolysis or muscular breakdown. This breakdown can cause a large amount of Potassium to be released from your muscle cells into your blood vessels.

6. Excessive burns

Some types of trauma, such as severe burns, might cause your Potassium levels to increase. In such situations, extra PTS leaks from your body's cells into your bloodstream. Burns or crush injuries that damage a significant number of muscle cells can cause such consequences.

7. HIV

HIV has the potential to harm your kidney filters, making them less efficient in excreting PTS. Some typical HIV medicines, such as sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim therapy, are also linked to High Potassium levels.

8. Higher Potassium intake

Hyperkalemia can be caused by consuming excessive PTS through drugs or diet. Although this is rare, it may occur in people whose kidneys can't function properly.

9. Other health conditions

High Potassium levels are also associated with a number of health issues, including dehydration, type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, and internal bleeding.

Symptoms of Hyperkalemia

The symptoms of increased PTS may vary according to the amount of the mineral in your blood. If you have mild Hyperkalemia, you may not have any symptoms at all. However, if your PTS levels are high enough, you may experience the following symptoms.

  • Exhaustion and lethargy

  • A tingling or numbing sensation

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Pain in the abdomen

  • Chest discomfort

  • Palpitations or erratic heartbeat (arrhythmia)

  • Muscle weakness or numbness

Diagnosing Hyperkalemia

A serum Potassium test would be advised by your healthcare professional to diagnose High Potassium levels. Your doctor can also ask for an electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG demonstrates variations in your cardiac rhythm. Tall (peaked) T waves on an ECG are the first signs of Hyperkalemia. 

Treatment options for Hyperkalemia

The treatment for Hyperkalemia depends on your Potassium levels. The treatment options may include the following.

1. Haemodialysis

It is the ideal treatment for people with High Potassium due to kidney failure. 

2. Diuretics

Some diuretics can help your kidneys excrete PTS effectively, while others do not. Depending on your PTS level, your doctor may advise you to take either loop diuretics, Potassium-sparing diuretics, or thiazide diuretics since each diuretic works on different areas of the kidneys.

3. Potassium binders

They help in lowering PTS levels by binding more PTS in your stool, which eventually gets removed by your body when you excrete. If other therapies fail to reduce your PTS levels, your doctor may suggest PTS binders.

4. Intravenous therapy (IV)

If you have significantly High Potassium levels, your doctor may suggest intravenous (IV) therapy, which is administered through a vein. 

Preventing Hyperkalaemia

If you are at risk of having Hyperkalaemia, you can adopt dietary changes that will help keep your Potassium levels from becoming too high. However, before making any changes, it is best to consult with a doctor. Your doctor may advise restricting foods with a high Potassium content. 

The foods with the highest PTS may include the following.

  • Yogurt and milk

  • Fruits like jackfruit, bananas, avocados, raisins, and oranges

  • Vegetables such as yams, Brussels sprouts, potatoes with skin, tomato, and carrots

  • Seeds, nuts, and peanut butter

  • Lima beans, baked beans, black beans, and lentils

  • Beet greens

  • Swiss chard

  • Chocolate

  • Herbs such as turmeric, coriander, and nettle

  • Proteins such as soybeans, tuna, codfish, and white beans

The foods that are low in PTS and are safe to eat include the following.

  • Fruits like berries, apples, grapes, and cherries

  • Vegetables,

  • Including eggplant, mushrooms, kale, green beans, and peas

  • Proteins such as poultry and eggs

In addition to limiting specific foods, you can also check to see if there are any salt replacements, especially those that are high in PTS. You can also drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some FAQs about High Potassium or Hyperkalemia.


What causes High Potassium?

High Potassium can be caused by several factors, which may include chronic kidney disease, certain medications, congestive heart failure, alcoholism, HIV, and a high intake of PTS.

What is the best treatment for High Potassium?

Some of the best treatment options for Hyperkalaemia may include the following.

  • Haemodialysis

  • Diuretics

  • PTS binders

  • Intravenous (IV) therapy

  • Change in medication

  • Avoidance of NSAIDs

What are the symptoms of High Potassium?

If you have mild Hyperkalemia, you may not have any symptoms at all. However, if your PTS levels are high enough, you may experience symptoms like exhaustion and lethargy, a tingling or numbing sensation, nausea or vomiting, difficulty breathing, pain in the abdomen, chest discomfort, palpitations or an erratic heartbeat (arrhythmia), and muscle weakness or numbness.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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