What is hyperkalemia? Definition, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Hyperkalemia is an abnormally high level of potassium in the blood. The symptoms of hyperkalemia are first an arrhythmia accompanied by intense fatigue.

Definition of hyperkalemia

Hyperkalemia is a disease caused by abnormally high levels of potassium in the blood. The body’s potassium is mostly found in cells and organs (98%). Only 2% of this chemical element is normally found in the bloodstream.

Potassium is an essential element in the proper functioning of the body. It allows the activation of nerves and muscles. It, therefore, plays an essential role in setting the human body in motion.

In addition, the heart is a muscle (heart muscle, also called myocardium), and this substance is also essential for its proper functioning of it.

The level of potassium in the bloodstream is regulated by the kidneys. The presence of kidney disease (nephropathy) can therefore be the cause of the deregulation of potassium levels in the blood and thus lead to more or less serious consequences.

This is the development of hyperkalemia.

The prescription of drugs, or an adapted diet, can regulate this abnormally high level of potassium in the blood. The fact remains that hyperkalemia can be vital for the patient. The care must then be done as early as possible.

Any individual, regardless of gender, may be affected by the development of hyperkalemia.

However, people whose diet is very rich in potassium (athletes following a high protein diet for example) are more exposed to hyperkalemic risk. In addition, patients with kidney and/or cardiovascular diseases are also at increased risk of hyperkalemia.

Causes of hyperkalemia

There are different possible causes of hyperkalemia:

  • have kidney disease
  • too much acidity in the blood
  • the presence of diabetes
  • the presence of cardiovascular disease
  • a diet too rich in potassium (banana, orange, tomatoes, salt, etc.)
  • trauma and serious injury
  • Addison’s disease (endocrine disease, caused by decreased secretion of adrenal hormones)
  • taking certain medications: hypo surfactants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, etc.

The most likely complications and evolutions of the disease are more or less serious heart and cardiovascular damage, but also a risk of deficiency of an organ and the muscular system.

Risk factors for hyperkalemia

The major risk factors for hyperkalemia are:

  • the presence of cardiovascular and/or renal pathology (heart disease, nephropathies)
  • A diet rich in potassium

Symptoms of hyperkalemia

Sometimes patients with hyperkalemia have no symptoms.

Nevertheless, the most widely found symptoms in the context of such an attack are:

  • irregularities in the heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • intense and chronic fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • tingling, numbness, and other sensations in different parts of the body
  • Ephemeral paralysis
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea and vomiting

How to treat hyperkalemia?

Drug treatments used in hyperkalemia restore the heart rhythm, as well as promote the passage of potassium from the general bloodstream to the cells. They also facilitate the excretion of excess potassium.

Hemodialysis is the most common means used in the management of hyperkalemia. This technique eliminates excess potassium from the body.

The most commonly prescribed medications include calcium gluconate, insulin, sodium bicarbonate, diuretics, and others.

The reduction of symptoms associated with hyperkalemia is also possible by adapting the diet: reducing the consumption of foods rich in potassium (bananas, lentils, nuts, salmon, tomatoes, etc.), avoiding processed products high in added sugars, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, drinking more water, etc.

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