Hyperkalemia: Overview and More

Potassium is one of the most abundant chemical elements in our body, which is mainly found inside our cells. Hyperkalemia is a term for high levels of potassium in the blood. The normal potassium level for adults is between 3.6 and 5.2 meq / L.

If your level is above 5.5 meq / L, you will need treatment immediately, as elevated levels can become dangerous if they get too high. Hyperkalemia is often caused by kidney disease, but it can be caused by other diseases and factors, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and certain medications.

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Introduction to hyperkalemia

Understanding electrolytes

To better understand why potassium levels are important and what can cause them to go up or down, it helps to know how electrolytes work in the body. Most people are familiar with electrolytes from Gatorade or Pedialyte, which increase rehydration after exercise (or vomiting). and diarrhea in the case of pedialitis) to balance electrolyte levels. While the information in the ad is factual, it doesn't even tell you the complexity of electrolytes and how important they are to your body.

Simply put, electrolytes are complex minerals that, when dissolved in water, separate into electrically charged ions. There are many types of electrolytes, but the most important in the human body are sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, calcium, sulfate, magnesium, and phosphate. Our bodies depend on potassium to regulate blood pressure, vascular tone, normal insulin and various other hormones, gastrointestinal motility, acid-base balance, kidney function, and fluid and electrolyte balance.

With the help of hormones, specialized mechanisms and carriers, the kidneys are responsible for controlling the concentration and volume of electrolytes and water in the body. A good example of how the kidneys regulate water and electrolyte levels is urination. When you have excess fluid in your body, your urine output increases. When your body is dehydrated, urine output decreases. Any excess electrolytes are excreted in the urine, sweat, and digestive tract.

The kidneys have a strict limit of what is considered high or low levels of water or electrolytes in the body. When the levels rise or fall, the kidneys begin to respond immediately. Thirst is an excellent example of how our body responds to decreasing water levels.

High levels of potassium in the blood can disrupt the function of certain organ systems and be fatal if left untreated. Because hyperkalemia can become quite dangerous, elevated potassium levels should be taken seriously, even if they are not causing any symptoms yet.

Symptoms of hyperkalemia

Potassium plays an important role in the functioning of the heart and neuromuscular system, which is why at high levels, the heart, nerves, and muscles are often affected. With a slight increase in potassium levels, symptoms may not appear, but with an increase in potassium levels, symptoms may include:

  • Muscle weakness or spasms
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing and hyperventilation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Tingle
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), which are one of the most serious complications.
  • Confusion
  • Seizures, coma, and death at very high levels.


There are many factors that can contribute to high potassium levels , but the most common are kidney problems, such as acute kidney failure or chronic kidney disease. Other possible common causes include:

  • Addison's disease
  • Certain medications, such as angiotensin II receptor blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) , and beta blockers.
  • Ingestion of too much potassium, for example through food, potassium supplements, or salt substitutes.
  • Dehydration
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus
  • Destruction of red blood cells due to burns or other serious injuries.
  • Tumor lysis syndrome
  • Blood transfusion

Normal to high levels of potassium in the blood.


It is important to make sure you have true hyperkalemia.

Hyperkalemia is diagnosed with blood tests that check potassium levels and heart tests that show an abnormal heart rhythm.

Between all of these tests, your healthcare provider will be able to diagnose hyperkalemia fairly quickly, if you really have one.

Sometimes a blood test can show that you have high potassium levels when in fact you don't; This is known as pseudohyperkalemia. This can happen if the red blood cells in the blood sample break and release potassium into the sample. It can also happen if you use a very tight tourniquet for a few minutes while drawing blood to find a vein, especially if you open and clench your fist several times to dilate the veins.

Hyperkalemia Discussion Guide

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Pseudohyperkalemia can also occur with very high white blood cell or platelet counts. If high potassium levels are found in the absence of an obvious cause of hyperkalemia, and if you do not have any symptoms or signs of hyperkalemia, a blood test should be repeated.

In pseudohyperkalemia, serum potassium levels are significantly higher than plasma potassium levels. (Serum is what remains after blood clots, and plasma is the fluid that remains when clotting is prevented with an anticoagulant.) Because of this, some healthcare professionals prefer plasma blood tests to make sure you don't have pseudohyperkalemia.

Watch out

In most cases, hyperkalemia is mild and can be cured simply by limiting the potassium intake in your diet and addressing the root cause. If it's more severe, treatment options may include:

  • Diuretics (tablets for urination)
  • Intravenous (IV) administration of glucose and insulin
  • Intravenous calcium
  • Dialysis
  • Potassium-binding agents such as patyromer, which binds potassium in the digestive tract in exchange for calcium.


Eating a healthy diet that limits potassium intake is important if you have kidney disease or other conditions that put you at high risk of developing hyperkalemia. This includes limiting or avoiding foods high in potassium, such as many dairy products and vegetables. , fruits, dried beans and nuts.

Get the word of drug information

Hyperkalemia is a potentially dangerous condition, but it can be successfully treated. When potassium levels are high, it is important for your healthcare professional to quickly assess your immediate danger level and work to bring your blood potassium levels back to normal. It is also very important to find the root cause of your hyperkalemia so that it can be treated if necessary and so that steps can be taken to prevent it from happening again.

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