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High potassium level

Hyperkalemia; Potassium - high; High blood potassium

High potassium level is a problem in which the amount of potassium in the blood is higher than normal. The medical name of this condition is hyperkalemia.

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Causes

Potassium is needed for cells to function properly. You get potassium through food. The kidneys remove excess potassium through the urine to keep a proper balance of this mineral in the body.

If your kidneys are not working well, they may not be able to remove the proper amount of potassium. As a result, potassium can build up in the blood. This buildup can also be due to:

Symptoms

There are often no symptoms with a high level of potassium. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Your provider will likely check your blood potassium level and do kidney blood tests on a regular basis if you:

Treatment

You will need emergency treatment if your potassium level is very high, or if you have danger signs, such as changes in your ECG.

Emergency treatment may include:

Changes in your diet can help both prevent and treat high potassium levels. You may be asked to:

Your provider may make the following changes to your medicines:

Follow your provider's directions when taking your medicines:

Outlook (Prognosis)

If the cause is known, such as too much potassium in the diet, the outlook is good once the problem is corrected. In severe cases or those with ongoing risk factors, high potassium will likely recur.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider right away if you have vomiting, palpitations, weakness, or difficulty breathing, or if you're taking a potassium supplement and have symptoms of high potassium.

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References

Mount DB. Disorders of potassium balance. In: Skorecki K, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Taal MW, Yu ASL, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 18.

Seifter JL. Potassium disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 109.

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Review Date: 9/24/2019  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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