The signs of hyperkalemia are very vague and generally the condition tends to be asymptomatic. Severe hyperkalemia results in a mortality rate of about 67%. This article provides information on the symptoms of high potassium levels in the blood.
Hyperkalemia is characterized by high potassium levels in the blood. Potassium is an essential mineral for the body that helps in the functioning of the nerve and muscle cells. These cells include the cells of the heart. Although it is an essential mineral, too much of this mineral is not a good sign. This mineral is processed by the kidneys and the level is maintained. However, if there is more potassium than what can be processed by the kidney, then it may lead to a number of health complications. Under normal conditions, potassium levels in the blood is about 3.6 to 4.8 mEq/L. Problems can arise when the level of potassium in the blood is within the range of 5.1 to 7 mEq/L or more.
Most of the time, this disorder is a result of kidney problems. These problems include acute kidney failure and chronic kidney failure. They may arise due to various conditions like the presence of kidney stones, renal failure, etc. Other kidney diseases include:
- Obstructive uropathy
- Kidney transplant rejection
Apart from these, other conditions that lead to this condition include:
- Addison’s disease (causing reduction in aldosterone hormone that helps in the removal of this mineral and sodium)
- Burn injuries (causing tissues to release this mineral in the blood)
- Hemolytic conditions causing release of this mineral
- Drugs, alcoholism, infections, even coma causing rhabdomyolysis
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Traumatic injury
In some cases, the use of medications like potassium sparing diuretics, potassium supplements, etc. causes increased levels of this mineral in the body. Those with type 1 diabetes may develop signs. The lack of insulin in their blood leads to high blood sugar levels and eventually diabetic ketoacidosis. The increase in sugar levels cause this mineral to move out of the cells and enter the bloodstream, thereby elevating its level.
Unless the rise in potassium has been very rapid, the condition may not be apparent. Also, some of the symptoms might be due to another underlying medical condition. Some such symptoms are:
- Muscle weakness
- Mild hyperventilation
- Slow or absent pulse
- Irregular heartbeat
- Breathing problems
- Tingling sensation
This disorder is diagnosed with the help of blood tests and by carrying out an ECG. The treatment could be long-term or short-term, depending on the causes. If the symptoms are mild and are not related to any kidney or other medical complications, then one may be advised to make some dietary modifications. One needs to reduce the intake of potatoes, bananas, prunes, and raisins. In severe cases, one may be given diuretics to excrete potassium from the system. Chronic cases require intravenous doses of insulin, glucose, and calcium. This helps in the absorption of potassium from the blood. This in turn protects the heart and other muscles that could otherwise get damaged. If this condition arises due to kidney disorders, the affected person may need dialysis to treat the same.
Proper measures need to be taken to prevent the recurrence of this condition. If an individual is on medications that increase the potassium levels, then he/she needs to undergo regular blood tests. Also, one should have a well-balanced diet containing sufficient potassium-rich foods. People with this condition should drink lot of fluids so that the excess minerals can be flushed out of the body.
Lifestyle changes can help you maintain the levels of potassium and other essential minerals in the body. You could consult the doctor for more information on the dietary intake.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.