WHAT IS HIGH POTASSIUM?

IT’S A HIGH LEVEL OF POTASSIUM IN YOUR BLOOD

Potassium is a naturally occurring mineral that plays a key role in how your body works. Among its many functions, potassium helps keep your heartbeat regular and your muscles working properly.

IT’S NOT JUST A DESCRIPTION—IT’S A REAL CONDITION

The condition high potassium is also known as hyperkalemia. High potassium is simply what it sounds like: the amount of potassium in your blood is higher than it should be. This is generally considered to be a level above 5.0 milliequivalents per liter of your blood, or mEq/L. Your doctor can measure your potassium level with a blood test.

Excess potassium is normally removed by the kidneys. But if your kidneys are not working properly, they may not be able to keep your potassium at a healthy level.

IT CAN BE SERIOUS

High potassium can make you more likely to develop serious health issues. These could include an irregular heartbeat, heart attack, or temporary paralysis. In some cases, high potassium can even lead to death.

  • IRREGULAR HEARTBEAT

  • HEART ATTACK

  • TEMPORARY PARALYSIS

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of high potassium can range from mild or vague to barely noticeable—if noticeable at all. In fact, high potassium is often found during blood work being done for other reasons.

A condition with mild or no symptoms may sound like a good thing. But if high potassium is not detected and your level becomes too high, your risks for serious health issues can increase. As described below, you should seek medical attention if you feel certain symptoms—even if what you’re feeling is mild.

And always remember to check with your doctor any time you may not be feeling well or have any other signs or symptoms that something is not right or normal, even if not listed here.

  • SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION

    If you experience any of the following:

    • Weakness
    • Fatigue
    • Tingling or numbness
    • Other unusual sensations
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Unable to move (paralysis)
    • Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of high potassium may vary, so speak with your doctor about any symptoms you notice.

Even if you don’t have any symptoms, make sure you continue to talk to your doctor and monitor your potassium level with routine testing.

CAUSES OF HIGH POTASSIUM

High potassium can develop for a number of reasons. One of the most common causes of high potassium is chronic kidney disease (CKD).

As you may know, excess potassium is normally removed by the kidneys. If they’re not working properly—like with chronic kidney disease—potassium can rise to a dangerous level. Heart failure is another leading cause because of how blood flow affects the kidneys’ ability to do their job.

  • HEALTH-RELATED CAUSES

    Some health conditions may increase your potassium level, including but not limited to:

    • Chronic kidney disease (one of the most common causes)
    • Diabetic kidney disease
    • Heart failure
    • Addison’s disease (related to the adrenal glands)
    • Trauma from severe injuries or burns
  • MEDICATION-RELATED CAUSES

    Some medications may increase your potassium level, including but not limited to:

    • Blood pressure medications
    • Beta blockers and other heart medications
    • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin and ibuprofen
    • Water pills (for high blood pressure, some lung disorders, or heart problems)
    • Some herbal supplements and remedies with high levels of potassium

Discuss all medications you are taking, including supplements or natural remedies, with your doctor. Do not stop taking any medication on your own. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice on which medications you should be taking.

THE TWO TYPES OF HIGH POTASSIUM

High potassium can be acute (lasting up to a few days) or chronic (lasting a long time).

Acute high potassium may go away with short-term treatment. Chronic high potassium requires ongoing treatment.

ACUTE
HIGH POTASSIUM
CHRONIC
HIGH POTASSIUM
An isolated spike in potassium level; can be a result of trauma or severe injury, buildup of acid in the blood, or issues with red blood cells.An ongoing condition where potassium level is high more than one time per year.
Caused by too much potassium entering your blood.Caused by potassium not being removed from your blood properly. Learn about managing chronic high potassium.