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High potassium level in the blood

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High potassium level in the blood

What is high potassium in the blood called?

  • Hyperkalemia

What is the normal level of potassium in the blood?

If you need to know which are the potassium reference ranges or you require more information about the role of potassium in the blood you can visit: Normal potassium level in the blood

What does a high potassium blood level mean?

Hyperkalemia (high potassium in the blood) is usually due to:

  • Metabolic disorders (insulin deficiency, metabolic acidosis, etc.)
  • Kidney Failure: Kidneys cannot remove the extra potassium in the blood (renal insufficiency, nephritis, etc.)
  • High intake of potassium (high potassium snacks, etc.)

Potassium blood values are usually given in mEq/L but sometimes you can see these values in mmol/l following the International System of Units (SI). Numeric values are similar in mmol/L or in mEq/L

Hyperkalemia or high potassium blood levels mean:

  • Mild hyperkalemia (5.1 - 5.5 mEq/L in adults):

    Your potassium level is a bit high but if you do not have any other symptom it may be due only to an excessive potassium consumption.

    If you feel weak and tired contact your doctor.

  • Moderate hyperkalemia (5.5 - 6 mEq/L in adults) :

    Your potassium level is moderately high and to make an appointment with your doctor is advisable. It can be a sign that the kidneys cannot remove enough potassium from the body.

    You can have symptoms like weakness, fatigue, irregular heart rate or breathing problems.

  • Marked hyperkalemia (6 - 7 mEq/L in adults) :

    Marked hyperkalemia is related with altered mental status, extreme muscle weakness or paralysis and difficulty breathing.

    It is necessary to reduce this dangerous level so you need to visit your doctor as soon as possible.

  • Severe hyperkalemia (> 7 mEq/L in adults):

    A potassium level of 7 mEq/dL or greater is a medical emergency requiring urgent treatment.

    Severe hyperkalemia causes serious cardiac dysrhythmias and can lead to a cardiac arrest.

    Very high potassium levels can be seen also in case of pseudohyperkalemia. This situation is a consequence of an improper technique during collection, storage, and transport of blood products. It requires a new blood sample to confirm a true hyperkalemia.

Which factors can raise potassium blood levels?

There are some circumstances or drugs than can raise your potassium blood levels:

  • Illicit drugs
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Internal bleeding
  • Crush or fall injuries
  • Drugs
    • Antineoplastics
    • Anticoagulants
      • Heparin
    • Antituberculars
      • Isoniazid
    • Catecholamine
      • Epinephrine
    • Diuretics
    • Sugar substitute
      • Mannitol
    • ACE inhibitor
      • Captopril
    • Vasodilators
      • Histamine

Which diseases can raise your potassium blood levels?

Having higher-than-normal levels of potassium in the blood can be the result of a variety of medical conditions and diseases that include:

  • Metabolic acidosis
  • Respiratory acidosis
  • Addison's disease
  • Hyporaldosteronism
  • Kidney failure
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Interstitial nephritis

What can I do to lower potassium blood levels?

If your potassium blood level is slightly high, you can consider the following tips:

  • Reduce your potassium intake. There is plenty of potassium in:
    • Leafy green and root vegetables: spinach, kale, carrots, potatoes, asparagus
    • Fruits: Avocados, bananas, oranges, kiwis and plums
    • Milk and whole grains
    • Fish: cod, salmon
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. These products can cause your muscle to break down and release a high amount of potassium into the bloodstream.
  • Avoid salt substitutes: Salt substitutes are high in potassium (it contains potassium chloride)

Where can I find more information about potassium in the blood?

You can visit our pages about:

Which values are considered a high potassium level in the blood?

The following values are considered to be above the normal range:

IMPORTANT: These levels are expressed in mEq/L (mmol/L). They are an example for a healthy man of about 45 years of age with no known disease, not taking any medication and with an appropriate intake of potassium in diet. The ranges can be different depending on the laboratory or on your personal circumstances.

Potassium
Status
Mild hyperkalemia
5.2 mEq/L5.3 mEq/L5.4 mEq/L5.5 mEq/L    
Moderate hyperkalemia
5.6 mEq/L5.7 mEq/L5.8 mEq/L5.9 mEq/L6 mEq/L   
Marked hyperkalemia
6.1 mEq/L6.2 mEq/L6.3 mEq/L6.4 mEq/L6.5 mEq/L6.6 mEq/L6.7 mEq/L6.8 mEq/L
6.9 mEq/L7 mEq/L      
Severe hyperkalemia
7.1 mEq/L7.2 mEq/L7.3 mEq/L7.4 mEq/L7.5 mEq/L7.6 mEq/L7.7 mEq/L7.8 mEq/L
7.9 mEq/L8 mEq/L8.1 mEq/L8.2 mEq/L8.3 mEq/L8.4 mEq/L8.5 mEq/L8.6 mEq/L
8.7 mEq/L8.8 mEq/L8.9 mEq/L9 mEq/L    
foto de Dr. Javier Muga Bustamante
Written by

Dr. Javier Muga Bustamante

Last update: 18/03/2020

Bibliography

  • Concise Book of Medical Laboratory Technology: Methods and Interpretations. 2nd Edition. 2015. Ramnik Sood. ISBN: 978-93-5152-333-8. Pag. 560.
  • Tietz. Fundamentals of Clinical Chemistry. Carl A. Burtis, Edward R. Ashwood, David E. Bruns, Barbara G. Sawyer. WB Saunders Company, 2008. Pag 660. ISBN: 978-0-7216-3865-2.
  • Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events (CTCAE). Version 5.0.Published: November 27, 2017. U.S. Department of health and human Services. Disponible en: https://ctep.cancer.gov
  • Tietz NW, ed. Clinical guide to laboratory tests, 3rd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Company,1995:124pp, 502-504,562-564.
  • Matsubara A, Ichihara K, Fukutani S. Determination of reference intervals for 26 commonly measured biochemical analytes with consideration of long-term within-individual variation. Clin Chem Lab Med 2008;46:691-98.

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