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What Causes High Potassium Levels

What Causes High Potassium Levels

Too much potassium in blood can cause muscle weakness, paralysis or even heart failure. Read on to know what causes high potassium levels in body and what do they indicate...
Leena Palande
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Imbalance of nutrients often leads to several health problems. Like all other vitamins and minerals, potassium is also an essential element because it plays an important role in the functioning of our body. The electrolyte potassium is crucial for the functioning of cells. Abnormally high levels of potassium are medically known as hyperkalemia. What causes high potassium levels? What does high blood potassium mean? The following section provides answers to these questions.
Why do Blood Potassium Levels Rise
Blood potassium level between 3.5 mEq/L to 5.0 mEq/L (milliequivalents per liter) is considered as normal. Depending upon the amount of potassium in blood, the disorder is described as mild, moderate or severe hyperkalemia. Potassium levels between 5.1 mEq/L to 6.0 mEq/L are referred to as mild hyperkalemia while levels between 6.1 mEq/L to 7.0 mEq/L are called moderate hyperkalemia. Blood potassium above 7 mEq/L is described as severe hyperkalemia. They require immediate medical attention. Here is a list of causes of high potassium levels in blood.
Kidney Diseases: Increased blood potassium indicates kidney disorder. Kidneys filter the blood and help get rid of excess potassium. But damaged kidneys are not able to perform their function well. Problem in elimination of potassium through urine gives rise to high blood potassium levels. Kidney disease or kidney dysfunction is one of the main causes of high potassium in blood. Chronic renal failure, lupus nephritis, transplant rejections or any change in the dialysis treatment for kidney patients can lead to hyperkalemia.
Injuries and Burns: Severe injuries to tissues, surgery, traumatic injury, hemolytic conditions that lead to explosion of blood cells may result in high potassium in blood. Tissue injuries lead to removal of potassium from cells and addition of potassium in bloodstream. This can cause an increase in blood potassium. Similarly, high acid levels (acidosis) are responsible for the transfer of potassium from inside the cells to the fluid outside the cells.
Adrenal Malfunction: The hormone 'aldosterone', released by the adrenal glands stimulates the kidneys to excrete potassium through urine. So adrenal dysfunction or diseases like Addison's disease which affect the function of the adrenal gland can lead to elevated potassium levels in blood.
Diabetes: People diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are more prone to hyperkalamia. High glucose levels seriously affect the function of the kidneys, leading to high potassium.
Wrong Diet: If the person whose kidneys are not functioning well, eats foods rich in potassium in excessive quantity, then a significant increase in the potassium levels in blood can be noticed.
Drugs and Medicines: Use of certain drugs and medications like anti-inflammatory medications, blood thinning medicines, lithium, medications which interfere with urine excretion and some calcium channel blockers can lead to high blood potassium.
Other Causes: As the question 'what causes high potassium levels in blood' is haunting you, here are some more causes of elevated levels of blood potassium. Internal bleeding, destruction of tumor cells or red blood cells, chemotherapy for leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma, excessive intake of salt substitutes which contain potassium, rhabdomyolysis (involves destruction of muscle cells) caused by drug abuse, alcoholism, an injury, coma, or certain infections can lead to abnormally elevated level of potassium in the blood.
Symptoms of High Potassium Levels in Blood
  • Muscle weakness
  • Chest pain, or heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat
  • Diarrhea (with very high amount of potassium in blood)
  • Slow heartbeat, low pulse rate
  • Excessive tiredness and nausea
  • Muscle paralyzing (as hyperkalemia suppresses the electrical activity of the muscles) or cardiac stroke (with very high blood potassium)
Moderate or severe hyperkalemia affects the electrical rhythm of the heart. But high blood potassium symptoms are often not seen until and unless there is a significant rise in the potassium levels. Hyperkalemia treatment varies according to the cause. Healthy and balanced diet promotes proper functioning of kidneys. So, levels of potassium can be maintained by following a balanced diet. Prescribed medicines and low potassium diet help lower the levels of potassium.
The electrolyte 'potassium' helps maintain normal heart rate and lowers the chances of having heart diseases. It plays an important role in the functioning of the nerve cells and muscle cells (including cells of the heart). It reduces the risk of cell dehydration. It aids in digestion and metabolism. If you notice any symptoms of high blood potassium levels, you should immediately contact your doctor.