Hyperkalemia – Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Hyperkalemia is a condition in which the potassium levels in the body are more than the normal range. According to experts, the normal blood potassium level ranges between 3.6 and 5.2 millimoles per liter. When the reading goes higher than 6.0 millimoles per liter, it can be dangerous to health and needs immediate medical attention.  

Symptoms to look out for
The symptoms of this condition depend on the level of potassium in the bloodstream. If the levels aren’t too high, one may not even notice any symptoms, but if one experiences the below-mentioned symptoms, then it is a sign that they need immediate medical treatment.

  • Numbness or tingling sensations 
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeats or experiencing palpitations

It is crucial to recognize the symptoms as in extreme cases, the high levels of potassium can lead to paralysis or even heart failure. 

Know what causes it
There are several reasons why one gets hyperkalemia; it can include already existing health problems or/and use of certain medications.

  • One of the most common causes of this condition is kidney failure that leads to high potassium levels. Kidneys function to remove the excess potassium from the body, but this process is hindered with their failure, leading to a potassium buildup. 
  • Certain medications are linked with inducing high levels of potassium, such as some chemotherapy medicines, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and angiotensin receptor blockers. The overuse of potassium supplements is also another cause of hyperkalemia. 
  • Other health conditions that could lead to a potassium buildup are dehydration, type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, internal bleeding, and destruction of red blood cells caused due to severe injury or burns.
  • The muscle breakdown caused due to heavy consumption of alcohol and drugs releases a high amount of potassium into the bloodstream, which may lead to this condition. 

Treatments for hyperkalemia
There are two types of treatment for this condition; one is acute and another is a long-term treatment. 

Acute or urgent treatment includes hospitalization as the potassium buildup needs immediate attention. Some of the methods that can be used for this are: 

  • Administering glucose and insulin intravenously into the bloodstream in order to promote the movement of potassium from the extracellular space back into the cells. 
  • Intravenous administration of calcium to protect the heart and muscles temporarily from the possible damage from high levels of potassium. 
  • Prescription of certain medications that drive the potassium back into the cells or leads to its excretion through the gastrointestinal tract. 
  • Administering sodium bicarbonate to counteract the acidosis. 
  • Since one of the causes could also be kidney failure, dialysis procedure is also considered for the excretion of excess potassium.
  • If one is taking any supplements, then the doctor will advise discontinuing those till a balance is attained in the bloodstream. 
  • There is also diuretic administration where the medications force potassium out of the body through excretion with the help of kidney function. 

Once the immediate medical attention has been given and the patient’s potassium levels are normal, there are long-term treatments like incorporating a low-potassium diet, discontinuing potassium supplements, and following a healthier lifestyle than before. It is important that one seeks medical advice before trying any remedies at home because if left untreated, hyperkalemia could lead to major health complications. 

most viewed posts

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

Be the first to be notified about our new content and updates!