Condition Basics

What is hyperkalemia?

Hyperkalemia (say "hy-per-kay-LEE-mee-uh") is a high level of potassium in the blood. Potassium is both an electrolyte and a mineral. It helps keep the right mix of fluids in your body. It also helps keep your heart beating normally and your nerves and muscles working as they should.

What causes it?

Hyperkalemia may be caused by problems with the kidneys. Another cause may be medicines, such as beta-blockers, that treat high blood pressure or heart problems. It can also be caused by damage to body tissues due to a severe injury or a heart attack.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms vary. You may have a heartbeat that is too slow or too fast or that feels like fluttering. You may have nausea, muscle aches, or weakness. You may have no symptoms at all. In severe cases, your heart may stop due to cardiac arrest.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose hyperkalemia, your doctor will examine you and ask about your health. You will have a blood test. If your heart might be affected, your doctor may give you an electrocardiogram (EKG) test to check for problems with your heart.

How is hyperkalemia treated?

If your hyperkalemia is caused by a kidney problem, that condition will be treated. Your doctor may have you eat foods with less potassium and not use a salt substitute containing potassium. Your medicines may be changed to ones that don't raise your potassium levels. You may get medicine to lower these levels.

How can you prevent it?

You may prevent hyperkalemia by following a low-potassium diet, if your doctor suggests it. You can also avoid fasting or diets that are too low in calories.


Current as of: November 15, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.