Hyperkalemia Can Be a Part of Kidney Disease

The bloodstream carries many different substances within it. Many people are aware of blood sugar levels. The prevalence of Diabetes has certainly led many people to learn about how blood sugar can affect the body. However, there are many other substances which are perhaps not as well known or considered. One of these is potassium. 

Potassium is a crucial chemical within the body. Without it, nerves and muscle cells would struggle to function correctly. Potassium is measured in millimoles per liter just as blood sugar can be. Normally the body filters and expels potassium as necessary through urine. A score of 3.6 to 5.2 is normal for potassium. People who find their ratings higher than that can be suffering from hyperkalemia. There are dangerous consequences of hyperkalemia with kidney disease and heart complications right at the front of the list. 

What’s Causing Hyperkalemia? 

Of all potential causes of hyperkalemia, the most common is kidney disease. Typically, chronic kidney disease or acute kidney failure can cause the most serious cases of hyperkalemia. Quite simply, it’s the kidney that is usually responsible for filtering potassium and keeping the balance in blood correct. Once it is compromised, then potassium levels can rise. There are also some other potential causes. These include: 

  • Addison’s Disease - This is a condition that affects hormone balances in the body. 
  • Diabetes - This is far more common with type 1 diabetes, and specifically when the person with diabetes is doing a poor job of keeping their blood sugar in safe areas. 
  • Injury and Burns - The body releases extra potassium into the blood, and loss of red blood cells due to injury can result in an imbalance. 
  • High Potassium Diets and Supplements - Sometimes people can take too many supplements and eat too many foods that are very rich in potassium. This is often a more problematic issue when the kidneys are at least slightly impaired. Another item to beware is salt substitutes, which feature very high levels of potassium. 

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of hyperkalemia can be very mild or not appear at all. The symptoms that can be felt are often nausea, tingling, numb feelings and muscle weakness. Those symptoms are incredibly common and felt in so many conditions that it can be hard to nail them down as resulting from hyperkalemia. Severe cases can cause heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath and vomiting/nausea. A severe case of hyperkalemia is life threatening and needs immediate medical attention. 

Diagnosing hyperkalemia is difficult due to the way symptoms present themselves. It’s most common for hyperkalemia to be discovered when testing blood for something else! Doctors will likely ask many questions if there’s signs to try and determine past, medical history, diet and medications to see if they can find a reason for hyperkalemia. 

Getting Treatment

Treatment will depend on the severity of the hyperkalemia. People who are at very high levels will probably start with medications. Water pills assist in helping the body remove more potassium through urine. Potassium binders are a treatment that can be taken orally with water or rectally. These binders will attach to excess potassium that is located in the bowel and then remove it. Potassium binders can be dangerous if the instructions are not followed and they can badly interact with other medications. 

Beyond medication, it’s likely that a low potassium diet will be the next step. It’s important to note that it’s a “low” potassium diet and not a “no” potassium diet. Finding that delicate balance is often very difficult. Resources like a dietitian can assist in ensuring that the right amounts of potassium is consumed.

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