Cardiovascular disease is a broad term used to describe a number of conditions, including:

  • heart disease
  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • stroke
  • heart valve problems
  • arrhythmia

It’s a leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one American dies from cardiovascular disease every 37 seconds.

High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, and obesity are among the most common factors that can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

It’s important to work with your doctor to create a treatment plan to properly manage these risk factors.

In addition, high potassium blood levels have been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Here’s what you need to know about the link between cardiovascular disease and high potassium.

Potassium is a vital nutrient that supports healthy nerve, cell, and muscle function.

Most people should get about 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day. It’s found in many foods, including:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • meats
  • bread
  • fish
  • dairy

Your kidneys filter any excess potassium you eat from your blood. It leaves the body through urination.

Sometimes the body can’t get rid of excess potassium you consume. This can lead to potentially dangerously high levels of potassium in your blood, which is known as hyperkalemia.

A healthy potassium blood level is between 3.5 and 5.0 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L).

Staying within this range supports electric signaling in the heart. It helps your muscles function properly, including those that control your heartbeat and breathing.

Having too much potassium in your blood is known as hyperkalemia. This condition is more common in people with health conditions, including congestive heart failure.

In fact, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers used to treat cardiovascular disease can cause your kidneys to retain potassium and lead to hyperkalemia.

Untreated high potassium levels in your blood can cause further heart problems. Hyperkalemia can lead to an irregular heartbeat, known as an arrhythmia. It can even result in a heart attack or death if it’s not diagnosed and treated.

Many people with hyperkalemia notice few if any symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • nausea
  • muscle weakness
  • numbness or tingling
  • diarrhea
  • fainting
  • a weak or irregular heartbeat
  • abdominal cramps

Keeping your potassium blood levels in check is critical if you have cardiovascular disease.

Keep in mind that a low blood potassium level can cause blood vessels in your heart to stiffen. Low levels have been linked to:

  • stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease

Talk to your doctor to ensure you’re getting the right amount of potassium in your diet, especially if you’re at risk for heart disease.

Your doctor may suggest modifying your diet if you’re at risk for hyperkalemia. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about high potassium foods to avoid or limit. These may include:

  • avocados
  • tomatoes
  • potatoes
  • asparagus
  • winter squash
  • cooked spinach
  • oranges
  • kiwi
  • cantaloupe
  • bananas
  • nectarines
  • dried fruit, including raisins and prunes

Avoid salt substitutes. Many of these seasonings have a considerable amount of potassium.

Your doctor may also suggest swapping milk products for dairy alternatives like rice milk. Always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

Keeping your blood potassium level in a healthy range is key to avoiding heart-related complications. Your doctor may recommend the following treatments for high potassium levels:

  • a low potassium diet
  • dialysis, which filters your blood
  • diuretics to stimulate urination
  • potassium binders or medications that bind to excess potassium in the bowels and remove it in your stool

Eating potassium-rich foods helps protect your heart. But it’s also possible to consume too much of this essential nutrient. This can lead to high blood potassium levels, known as hyperkalemia.

You’re at greater risk of developing hyperkalemia if you have congestive heart failure and if you’re taking medications, including beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.

A high potassium level in your bloodstream can also interfere with electric signaling in the heart and lead to life threatening complications.

If you have or are at risk of cardiovascular disease, talk with your doctor about how much potassium to include in your diet.