Hyperkalemia is an excess of serum potassium. Most potassium in the body (98%) is found within cells; only a small amount usually circulates in the bloodstream. The balance of potassium between the cells and the blood is critical. It affects the way the cell membranes work and governs the action of the heart and the pathways between the brain and the muscles. If you have excess potassium in the blood, it is usually excreted by the kidneys. However, the levels can get too high if your kidneys aren't working right, which is the most common cause of hyperkalemia. Another cause is damaged cells' releasing potassium into the bloodstream faster than even normal kidneys can clear it. Medications or diet may also affect the amount of potassium in the blood. Hyperkalemia is a serious condition that must be treated promptly!
Hyperkalemia has many causes, including the following.
- Kidney problems
- Too much acid in the blood, as sometimes seen in diabetes
- Diet high in potassium (bananas, oranges, tomatoes, high protein diets, salt substitutes, potassium supplements)
- Trauma, especially crush injuries or burns
- Addison's disease
- Certain medications
You may not be feeling any effects of the hyperkalemia; your health care provider may discover it during a routine blood test or electrocardiogram
. Hyperkalemia can cause life-threatening effects without warning. If you experience the symptoms of hyperkalemia, you should call 911 or get to an emergency room. You should expect to be admitted to the hospital for further tests and so that your condition can be stabilized. You will be given medications to take care of the immediate problem, but more tests may need to be done to determine the underlying cause. If the medications are not successful in lowering the potassium
level in your blood, dialysis
may be recommended.