Hyperkalemia and High Potassium Levels

November 12, 2012

Hyperkalemia and High Potassium Levels

Potassium has many functions in the body making it an important electrolyte. It is important for maintaining potentials across every cell in the body but is particular important for muscle and brain cells. It is important for muscle contraction, electrical signally in neurons and a number of metabolic processes including fluid balance in the body, heart rate and blood pressure. Potassium levels are important for the entire body so extreme fluctuations can bring about serious repercussions. Hyperkalemia is the term used to describe high potassium levels which indicates that you have high potassium levels in your blood.

The kidney normally rids the body of excess potassium so anything that disturbs this process will create high levels of potassium. High potassium levels can be caused by kidney failure in particular glomerulonephritis. The glomerulus if the part of the kidney that filters blood. Hormones also control how the kidney handles potassium as well as sodium. Aldosterone produced by the adrenal glands determines how potassium is handled in the kidneys. A lack of aldosterone results in high potassium levels. This could be an adrenal gland problem or an hypothalamic problem. The hypothalamus makes a hormone that tells the adrenal glands to release aldosterone. So, complications with the hypothalamus and/or the adrenal glands can cause hyperkalemia or high potassium levels as well.

Unfortunately, high potassium levels may not have symptoms however some individuals do present with heart problems and high serum levels. Symptoms are listed below.

  • Arrhythmias meaning an irregular heart beat (ventricular fibrillation)

  • Nausea

  • Heart rate (pulse) that is absent, weak or very slow (bradycardia)

  • Cardiac arrest

  • High serum levels of potassium

  • Nerve and muscle malfunction

  • loss of consciousness

An individual with high potassium levels may require dialysis to remove potassium in the blood. Diuretic medications may be administered to reduce total body potassium by increasing urine output. Calcium may be administered intravenously to aid muscle and heart problems. Beyond this the patient may have to limit potassium in the diet. If kidney function is seriously impaired, you may require a transplant. Hyperkalemia, high potassium levels, generally doesn’t come from the diet but rather involves itself with kidney, adrenal or hypothalamic dysfunction. Excessive potassium is a serious condition that can cause brain and muscle dysfunction and serious heart complications. This calls for immediate hospitalization. Blood tests should be done to check for serum levels of potassium. If excess potassium is present, the next step is to try to remove the excess potassium as quickly as possible to stabilize the patient before death ensues. Then tests can be run to establish where the problem is coming from. Then a more permanent therapy can begin.

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