Symptoms and Signs of Hyperkalemia (High Blood Potassium)

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Medically Reviewed on 9/23/2022

Doctor's Notes on Hyperkalemia (High Blood Potassium)

Hyperkalemia refers to the situation in which the blood level of potassium is abnormally high. An elevated level of potassium can have many causes. The main causes of a high potassium level are kidney problems or kidney failure, diseases of the adrenal gland, loss of potassium from inside of cells into the blood circulation, and taking certain medications.

In some cases, particularly with mild elevations of potassium, hyperkalemia does not produce symptoms (asymptomatic). In other cases, signs and symptoms of hyperkalemia include

More serious symptoms of hyperkalemia can include a decrease in heart rate and weak pulse. Severe hyperkalemia can lead to heart stoppage and death. A rapid elevation in potassium level is usually more dangerous than one that rises slowly over time.

What Is the Treatment for Hyperkalemia?

Mildly elevated potassium can be managed by making dietary changes. The treatment of hyperkalemia can involve the use of diuretics (water pills) to remove both fluid and potassium from the body. Other drugs work to remove potassium by binding to excess potassium in the intestines and ensuring it is excreted from the body. Urgent cases of severely high potassium require treatment in a hospital with medications such as calcium gluconate, calcium chloride, sodium and bicarbonate, and insulin (with or without glucose).

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.