Hyperkalemia (cont.)

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What are the symptoms of hyperkalemia?

Hyperkalemia can be asymptomatic, meaning that it causes no symptoms. Sometimes, patients with hyperkalemia report vague symptoms including:

More serious symptoms of hyperkalemia include slow heartbeat and weak pulse. Severe hyperkalemia can result in fatal cardiac standstill (heart stoppage). Generally, a slowly rising potassium level (such as with chronic kidney failure) is better tolerated than an abrupt rise in potassium levels. Unless the rise in potassium has been very rapid, symptoms of hyperkalemia are usually not apparent until potassium levels are very high (typically 7.0 mEq/l or higher).

Symptoms may also be present that reflect the underlying medical conditions that are causing the hyperkalemia.

What causes hyperkalemia?

The major causes of hyperkalemia are kidney dysfunction, diseases of the adrenal gland, potassium sifting out of cells into the blood circulation, and medications.

Kidney dysfunction

Potassium is normally excreted by the kidneys, so disorders that decrease the function of the kidneys can result in hyperkalemia. These include:

  • acute and chronic renal failure,
  • glomerulonephritis,
  • lupus nephritis,
  • transplant rejection, and
  • obstructive diseases of theurinary tract, such as urolithiasis (stones in the urinary tract).

Furthermore, patients with kidney dysfunctions are especially sensitive to medications that can increase blood potassium levels. For example, patients with kidney dysfunctions can develop worsening hyperkalemia when given salt substitutes that contain potassium, when given potassium supplements (either orally or intravenously), or medications that can increase blood potassium levels. Examples of medications that can increase blood potassium levels include:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/3/2013

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