Our bodies need potassium, an essential nutrient which can be found in a wide array of foods. Potassium aids in the proper function of our nerves and muscles including the heart, but, as with most things, moderation of potassium intake is advised because too much of a good thing is not always such a good thing.
Normal levels of potassium rest at about 3.5 and 5.0 mmol/L. When potassium increases to higher levels, the results can be harmful and sometimes even disastrous. Mild levels of hyperkalemia rest at about 5.1 to 6.0 and levels of 6.1 to 7.0 are regarded as moderate. Levels exceeding 7.0 are considered severe. In worse case scenarios, elevated potassium levels in the blood can cause abnormal heart rhythm which can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
Typically, those people with elevated levels of potassium within their blood will exhibit no symptoms or symptoms will be mild and won’t present as very specific. However, when hyperkalemia is severe, symptoms may include fatigue, muscle weakness or pain, numbness or tingling and heart palpitations. Complications may even include paralysis. If hyperkalemia strikes with sudden and extreme levels of potassium (which is life-threatening and requires emergency medical care), symptoms may include shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea or vomiting.
Hyperkalemia affects approximately two to three percent of the general population. The risk of developing hyperkalemia is greater among men, while women are more likely to develop hypokalemia which is quite the opposite – low levels of potassium within the blood. The greatest risk of high potassium lies within those suffering from renal issues.
The most common causes of hyperkalemia include kidney disease. This is due to the fact that an important job of the kidneys is to filter and thereby balance the amount of potassium in the body. Hyperkalemia can occur as a result of poor kidney function. While in the early stages of kidney impairment, hyperkalemia may not be a factor, but if kidneys continue to deteriorate, they will not be able to adequately remove potassium from the body.
Do you at a lot of bananas, avocados, melons, figs or kiwis? Maybe you drink a ton of orange juice? Whichever of these foods and drinks you may enjoy, just be careful to use moderation. Hyperkalemia can simply be the result of a diet which is too high in potassium, especially in people with kidney impairment. Taking certain drugs can also prevent kidneys from sufficiently filtering potassium from the body, resulting in hyperkalemia.
Less common causes of hyperkalemia can include absorbing too much potassium through salt substitutes (which are high in potassium) or supplements, HIV infection, adrenal gland disorders or dehydration. Burns and other severe injuries can also cause the release of extra potassium in the blood. Additionally, poorly controlled diabetes can have a direct, negative result on kidneys and the potassium balance within the body. Hyperkalemia may also be a sign that there is something else amiss within the body.
Hyperkalemia diagnosis can be obtained by testing the blood to determine potassium levels; by closely monitoring the heart, typically with electrocardiograms; and then with periodic blood tests to ensure that potassium and glucose levels remain normal.
If diagnosed with hyperkalemia, patients may be placed on low potassium diets as prescribed by a physician and asked to eliminate salt substitutes from their diet as well as to temporarily avoid medications which can affect potassium toxicity. Emergency and non-emergency hyperkalemic can be treated with water pills if a patient does not have severely impaired kidney function. These diuretics work to excrete excess potassium through the patient’s urine.
Potassium binders, which work to bind extra potassium and remove it through the bowels, may also be used in the treatment of hyperkalemia. Some potassium binders come in the form of powders which can be mixed with water and taken with food. Others can come in the form of an enema. Whichever binder is used, it must not be taken within six hours of any other medications and should never be used in the treatment of children.
Intravenous therapies can include calcium to protect muscles including the heart; glucose and insulin to promote potassium movement between cells; and dialysis in the case of severe renal issues and as a last resort.
Aggressive treatment of hyperkalemia may result in side effects including increased urination, dehydration, headaches, light-headedness, muscle cramps, joint issues or erectile dysfunction….and because many are used to decrease potassium levels in patients with hyperkalemia, treatments may also result in low blood levels of potassium.
Riverside Clinical Research is conducting a clinical trial for the purpose of the further study of hyperkalemia. The intent is to discover improved methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of this potentially dangerous condition. If you would like to play a significant part in our scientific endeavors as they relate to hyperkalemia, please contact Riverside Clinical Research to see if you are eligible to participate in the study.
Riverside Clinical Research volunteers are compensated for their time and travel and no insurance is necessary. As a clinical trial volunteer, you may also have VIP access to the newest hyperkalemia treatments.
RiversideClinical Research, conveniently located at 1410 S. Ridgewood Avenue in Edgewater, is an award-winning research facility. Doctors and experienced research professionals at Riverside Clinical Research work closely with clinical trial volunteers to monitor and assess the benefits and effectiveness of certain treatment. For more information, the clinical professionals at Riverside Clinical Research can be reached by calling 386-428-7730 Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Friday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.; or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about the clinical research trials at Riverside Clinical Research by accessing our patient portal which can be found on our website.