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What do High Potassium Levels Mean

What do High Potassium Levels Mean

It usually indicates onset of kidney disorders. To know more about symptoms of elevated potassium levels, read on...
Nicks J
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Anything of too much is never good for our health. This straight forward fact also applies to all the essential minerals that play a very important role to regulate various biological processes in our body. Although, mineral like potassium is necessary for optimal health, when it is present in abnormally high amounts, for a considerable amount of time, it is an indication of something wrong happening inside the body. It is discussed below:
Diuretics that increase urinary rate and help to reduce edema can also raise potassium levels. When potassium levels in blood deviate from normal range and remain consistently high, the condition is referred as hyperkalemia. When blood tests indicate alarmingly high potassium levels, it is a serious issue and requires aggressive treatment to lower high potassium levels.
Symptoms
The person may not show any symptoms, if potassium levels do not deviate substantially. However, with significant rise in potassium levels, the person may experience persistent nausea. The nauseating feeling may decrease his appetite. Other than nausea, a feeling of weakness is likely to 'haunt' the person consistently. Fatigue and abnormal heart rate are also some of the symptoms associated with hyperkalemia.
What does High Potassium Mean?
It means that the organ assigned the task of controlling potassium levels, is not working properly. Deficiency of certain hormones can also contribute to this problem. It is explained below:
Kidney Disorders
Of the many important functions of the kidneys, one involves monitoring blood potassium levels. As we all know, kidneys do an important task of filtering the blood to get rid of waste matter that is eventually excreted in the form of urine. During filtration process, the kidneys ensure that surplus potassium (if any)in the blood is removed and eliminated through urine. However, normal blood potassium levels will not be maintained when the kidneys are not functioning efficiently. In other words persistent high potassium in blood could mean the onset of kidney diseases.
It is observed that as the age increases, kidneys lose their capability to work efficiently. No wonder, excess potassium in blood is often diagnosed in the elderly. So, one can say that blood tests showing abnormally high potassium is an early sign of kidney dysfunction.
Sudden increase in potassium levels at a rapid rate could mean acute renal failure and requires urgent medical attention. On the other hand, a steady rise in potassium levels over a period of time indicate chronic kidney failure. Some of the common kidney ailments that can trigger abnormally high potassium levels are given below:
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Lupus nephritis
Aldosterone Deficiency
Aldosterone is a hormone found in our blood. Its main function is to maintain normal potassium levels in our body and promote excretion of excess potassium through urine. However, when there is shortage of aldosterone, it can give rise to abnormally high blood potassium levels. People suffering from Addison's disease usually suffer from aldosterone deficiency.
Alcoholism
High potassium levels could also mean that the person is drinking too much of alcoholic drinks. It is a known fact that alcohol negatively affects the muscle-building process. Studies show that alcohol induces breakdown of muscle fiber. As muscle tissues contain potassium, the damaged muscle tissues are no longer able to hold potassium and so is expelled into the bloodstream.
Dehydration
Recent research has found a link between elevated potassium levels and dehydration. A dehydrated body is likely to show abnormally high amount of potassium in the blood. Insufficient water intake contributes to dehydration, which eventually leads to high potassium levels.
Rhabdomyolysis
Due to muscle damage, there is progressive deterioration of skeletal muscle fibers at a rapid pace. As a result, the muscle cells that store myoglobin (a type of protein) is emptied into the bloodstream. In the bloodstream, myoglobin is further metabolized into various compounds.
The kidneys find these compounds difficult to filter and hence people suffering from rhabdomyolysis are likely to develop kidney disorders. These compounds may damage the kidney cells during the filtration of blood. Excessive physical activity, alcohol abuse, long-term use of statins, seizures or poor phosphate levels, any of these contribute to muscle damage, eventually triggering the onset of rhabdomyolysis. So, one can say that kidney dysfunction is one of the complications of rhabdomyolysis.
Overdose of Potassium Supplements
Slightly elevated potassium levels could mean there is too much intake of potassium rich foods or potassium supplements. Excess potassium in the diet can be a great burden for the kidneys as they have to work harder to remove potassium. In such circumstances reducing potassium dosage through foods and supplements can help to restore healthy potassium levels.
Certain high blood pressure medications (ACE inhibitors) can also contribute to high potassium levels in blood and so decreasing the dosage could benefit to resolve the issue. As high potassium levels point towards renal (kidney) insufficiency, taking the required treatment may help to prevent any complications.