Hyperkalemia, a condition characterized by extremely high levels of potassium in the blood, can lead to cardiac arrest and eventually result in death. Taking the severity of this condition into consideration, it is important to initiate its treatment at the earliest.
Hyperkalemia is a medical condition which is triggered due to abnormal elevation of potassium levels in the blood. Severe hyperkalemia is treated as a medical emergency, owing to the fact that the person suffering from the ailment has high chances of suffering from arrhythmias or various heart problems. That, however, doesn’t mean you can ignore mild hyperkalemia. Over the course of time, the ailment can get more severe and hence, it’s important to initiate the treatment at the earliest.
Potassium Levels in Blood
Potassium is indeed an essential nutrient required by our body. It helps in various body functions, ranging from transmission of nerve impulses to preventing muscle contraction. In extreme cases though, which is too high or too low potassium, it can be harmful for the body. The level of potassium in the blood is measured as milliequivalents per liter. Health condition that prevails when potassium content in blood is more than required is known as hyperkalemia, while the condition wherein the potassium content is less than required is known as hypokalemia.
- Normal Potassium Level: 3.5 mEq/L to 5.0 mEq/L
- Mild Hyperkalemia: 5.1 mEq/L to 6.0 mEq/L
- Moderate Hyperkalemia: 6.1 mEq/L to 7.0 mEq/L
- Severe Hyperkalemia: Above 7 mEq/L
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Approximately 98 percent of the potassium is stored in various cells in our body, while the remaining 2 percent is present in the blood. When the potassium content in blood increases, it shows in form of slow heartbeat, low pulse rate, weakness, tiredness, and nausea. As the ailment becomes severe, these symptoms become more and more obvious. High potassium levels in blood can eventually lead to further complications such as muscle paralysis or cardiac stroke. The condition is diagnosed by observing the signs and symptoms, and following it with blood tests and ECG to ascertain its causes.
Treatment for Hyperkalemia
Treatment can be initiated on the basis of severity of the symptoms, and ECG and blood reports. Generally, mild hyperkalemia doesn’t require hospitalization. The patient can undergo necessary treatment as an outpatient. However, if the case is severe and, more importantly, accompanied by worsening heart or kidney function, then hospitalization is a must. The patient may even have to spend a few days in an intensive care unit, depending on the grievousness of the issue.
Hyperkalemia treatment can include a single measure or a combination of more than one measures. In case of mild hyperkalemia, the patient should ideally stick to a low potassium diet. Medication, which increases the level of potassium in blood, should be ceased after consulting the doctor.
Insulin treatment for hyperkalemia involves injection of insulin in the veins to ensure that the potassium from the extracellular space moves back in the cells. The patient may require intravenous calcium for the protection of heart and muscles, and sodium bicarbonate to counter acidosis. The patient is also administered medication meant to stimulate beta-2 adrenergic receptors like epinephrine, to move potassium back to the cells. Medication like cation-exchange resins bind potassium and excrete it via gastrointestinal tract. Even diuretics are effective for decreasing potassium levels.
Basically, hyperkalemia can be treated by treating the underlying causes, which are likely to be kidney diseases, tissue destruction, etc. In case of kidney failure, or when all the other measures have failed, the last option is performing a dialysis to reduce the levels of potassium in the body.
Although it’s not possible to entirely prevent medical conditions which cause hyperkalemia, one has to make sure that the triggers are avoided. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle―sticking to healthy, low potassium diet and exercising regularly―is the foremost thing to do. If the patient is suffering from some chronic medical condition, he has to take necessary precautions to avoid increase in potassium levels. The treatment of this condition is of course possible, but it’s wise to prevent it in the first place.