Hyperkalemia is a condition marked by high levels of potassium in the blood. Left untreated, it can be hazardous to your health.
High potassium levels are common in patients hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s been shown that COVID-19 can attack the kidneys and trigger hyperkalemia. Having hyperkalemia can also put you at a higher risk of serious illness if you do contract the novel coronavirus.
While more research is still needed, here’s what we know so far about COVID-19 and hyperkalemia.
People with health conditions such as kidney disease, heart failure, and diabetes are at an increased risk of developing hyperkalemia.
Normally, your body uses the potassium it needs, then filters out and removes any excess potassium. When you have kidney disease, heart disease, or diabetes, your body may not do a good enough job of filtering out any excess potassium.
People with these conditions are also at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
A COVID-19 infection can cause dangerous kidney problems, which in turn may lead to hyperkalemia.
Viral attacks on the kidneys that result in reduced kidney function may be one cause of hyperkalemia among people with COVID-19. Another may be a surge in hormones and inflammatory immune cells caused by the disease.
Both individuals with preexisting kidney disease and those who develop kidney problems as a result of COVID-19 infection are at higher risk of hyperkalemia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the
Research has shown that acute kidney injury (AKI) may affect up to 40 percent of those who are hospitalized with the coronavirus.
One study conducted in New York City during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic found that, among COVID-19 patients with AKI, nearly half died. Findings also showed that the death rate among those requiring dialysis was as high as 79 percent.
High potassium is common in people who are hospitalized with COVID-19.
Hyperkalemia can increase your risk of dying from COVID-19. In one study conducted in China, half of those with COVID-19 who had high potassium levels of 5 mmol/L — indicating hyperkalemia — died, compared to 14 to 20 percent of those with lower potassium levels.
Hyperkalemia can be detected through a simple blood test. If you have risk factors for hyperkalemia like kidney disease, heart failure, or diabetes, get your potassium levels tested.
If you’re diagnosed with hyperkalemia, talk to your doctor about adjusting your diet or taking medications to reduce your potassium levels. Lower potassium can help decrease your risk of serious illness if you contract COVID-19.
Research also shows that rapidly addressing hyperkalemia in those who are admitted to the emergency room also can help reduce the risk of death.
The combination of COVID-19 and hyperkalemia can result in negative health outcomes. Getting a simple blood test can help diagnose hyperkalemia and get you the treatment you need to protect your health.