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What is hyperkalemia?
Hyperkalemia is common; it is diagnosed in up to 8% of
hospitalized patients in the U.S. Fortunately, most patients have mild
hyperkalemia (which is usually well tolerated). However, any
condition causing even mild
hyperkalemia should be treated to prevent progression into more severe
hyperkalemia. Extremely high levels of potassium in the blood (severe
hyperkalemia) can lead to cardiac arrest and
death. When not recognized and treated properly, severe hyperkalemia results in
a mortality rate of about 67%.
Technically, hyperkalemia means an abnormally elevated level of potassium in the blood.
The normal potassium level in the blood is 3.5-5.0 milliequivalents per liter
(mEq/L). Potassium levels between 5.1 mEq/L to 6.0 mEq/L reflect mild hyperkalemia.
Potassium levels of 6.1 mEq/L to 7.0 mEq/L are moderate hyperkalemia, and levels
above 7 mEq/L are severe hyperkalemia.