Having too much potassium in your blood is known as hyperkalemia. Potassium plays a role in your nerve impulses, metabolism, and blood pressure.
Hyperkalemia occurs when your body can’t filter out extra potassium that it doesn’t need. Extra potassium interferes with your nerve and muscle cells. This can lead to complications in your heart and other areas of your body.
The symptoms of high potassium may be unnoticeable to you. You may only find out that you have hyperkalemia after routine blood tests. Your doctor may monitor your potassium level more closely than other minerals.
Here are some of the ways hyperkalemia impacts your body.
Too much potassium in your blood can lead to heart conditions, such as an arrhythmia. This condition is also known as an irregular heartbeat. An arrhythmia can result in your heart beating too quickly, too slowly, or not in an even rhythm.
Arrhythmias occur because potassium is integral to the electric signal functioning in the myocardium. The myocardium is the thick muscle layer in the heart.
In addition, some symptoms of high potassium may be related to your cardiovascular system.
You should seek immediate medical care if you experience:
- chest pains
- heart palpitations
- a weakening pulse
- shortness of breath
- sudden collapse
These could be symptoms of a sudden spike in your potassium levels.
Keep in mind that other medications you take for heart conditions may contribute to high potassium. If you have heart failure, you may take beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, or diuretics. These medications can cause hyperkalemia.
Make sure your doctor checks your potassium levels regularly if you use these medications to avoid missing a hyperkalemia diagnosis.
High potassium doesn’t cause kidney conditions, but it’s generally directly related to your kidneys. You may be more susceptible to high potassium if you have kidney failure or another kidney condition. That’s because your kidneys are meant to balance the potassium levels in your body.
Your body absorbs potassium through foods, drinks, and sometimes supplements. Your kidneys excrete leftover potassium through your urine. But if your kidneys aren’t working as they should, your body may not be able to remove extra potassium.
High potassium may also cause other symptoms and effects. This includes:
- abdominal conditions, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping
- numbness or tingling in your arms, hands, legs, or feet
- changes in mood, such as irritability
- muscle weakness
These symptoms may slowly develop in your body and be so mild that you don’t even notice them. Subtle symptoms could make it difficult to diagnose high potassium. It’s important to see your doctor for routine bloodwork on a regular basis.
If you’re prone to high potassium levels, there are several ways you can manage the condition to avoid complications.
Avoid foods that are high in potassium, such as leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about how to limit or avoid them and maintain your health. A low potassium diet also focuses on serving sizes to make sure you aren’t eating more of this mineral than you should.
You may also need medications to control your potassium level if you’re unable to lower it through diet alone.