Increased potassium: the most important questions and answers

Erhöhtes Kalium: Die wichtigsten Fragen und Antworten

Potassium is an essential mineral in our body. It is particularly important for the development and regeneration of cells. In addition, potassium is also important for stimuli, hormones and the electrolyte and acid-base balance. Therefore, at least 2 grams of potassium per day should be ingested through diet in adults. If too much is ingested and the body can no longer excrete it for various reasons, hyperkalemia occurs, i.e. increased potassium levels(2,14,15">.

Hyperkalemia is discovered during routine laboratory checks because symptoms are often not present at all. It is therefore all the more difficult to detect the disorder. Blood, urine and EKG tests can be used to diagnose an elevated potassium level(2.11">. In the following article you will find out exactly how this can happen and how such a disorder is treated.

the essentials in brief

  • Potassium is the fourth most important mineral in our body. Potassium is therefore very influential on our muscles, hormones and electrolyte balance(2.9">.
  • Potassium is mainly absorbed through food, which is why a healthy intake is important. The requirement per day for adults is at least 2 grams(1.6">.
  • Elevated potassium levels can be caused by kidney weaknesses or diseases, or medication and supplements. Values ‚Äč‚Äčthat are too high can lead to devastating consequences(2.6">.

Definition: what is potassium anyway?

Potassium is an essential mineral in the human body and is necessary for its maintenance. After calcium, phosphorus and sulfur, potassium is the fourth most abundant in our bodies. It is responsible for many functions in the cells and meanwhile regulates the electrolyte and hormone balance(14,8,5">.

plastic heart

Potassium has many important tasks in the human body. However, values ‚Äč‚Äčthat are too high can harm us (Image source: StockSnap /Pixabay)

When the potassium levels in the body are elevated, this is referred to as hyperkalemia. A slight increase in potassium levels is usually asymptomatic. High levels, on the other hand, can even be life-threatening. This can result in paralysis, muscle weakness and cardiac arrhythmias with ventricular fibrillation and heart attacks. A functioning kidney is important for elevated potassium levels, otherwise the potassium cannot be excreted(7.8">.

Background: What you should know about increased potassium

Before we give you all the treatments and tips for lowering and treating potassium, you should read through some background information about potassium in this information section. We have selected important and frequently asked questions about potassium and hyperkalemia for you to deal with.

We will answer these questions for you in the following paragraphs.

What is the function of potassium in the body?

Potassium is an essential mineral for our body, which is involved in many processes, especially in the cells. We have listed a few important functions of potassium for you here:

  • Stimulus formation : Potassium maintains neuromuscular irritability and the nervous system up to the heart.
  • Regulation : Potassium is important for cell growth and its regulation.
  • Blood pressure : Potassium is essential for normal blood pressure.
  • Acid-base values ‚Äč‚Äč: Potassium ensures the acid-base balance.
  • Hormones : Potassium is also an important element in hormone balance. Particularly important for the production of insulin and therefore also important for diabetics (3).

So you see, potassium is very important in our body, but it depends on the amount. Values ‚Äč‚Äčthat are too low or too high can harm the body. The next point tells you how much potassium you need and how you can best absorb it.

How high is the need for potassium per day?

Of course, the need for potassium per day varies depending on the study and from person to person. However, it is generally recommended to consume at least 2 grams of potassium daily. Many researchers recommend a preventive intake of about 4.7 grams per day for adults(3.7"). This amount of potassium is necessary to protect us from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, kidney stones or strokes(4).

The daily requirement for adults is around 4 grams of potassium per day(4).

So, to meet the daily need for potassium, it is usually sufficient to eat a diet rich in potassium-rich foods. Mushrooms, beans, cheese, bananas, dates, raisins, nuts, spinach and potatoes are particularly high in potassium(1).

What foods contain potassium?

As discussed in the Daily Requirement section, some foods have more potassium than others. If you have high potassium levels, you should use low-potassium foods. In the two tables we show you which foods generally contain a lot of potassium and in the second table which you can easily eat if you have high potassium levels:

Groceries potassium content
bananas 570 mg per serving
carrots raw 310 mg per serving
boiled potatoes 890mg per serving
Cheese 120mg per serving
milk chocolate 470 mg per serving
poultry 300 to 350 mg per serving
nuts 600 to 700 mg per serving
milk 310 mg per 200 ml

(1)

Here is a table with the low-potassium foods that should be included in the diet when potassium levels are high:

Groceries potassium content
Apple 168 mg per serving
boiled carrots only 110 mg per serving
rice 15mg per serving
chicken egg 80 mg per serving
Onion approximately 140 mg per serving
lettuce up to 160 mg per serving
polenta up to 160 mg per serving

(1)

In general, you should pay attention to a balanced diet in your diet. Potassium-rich foods can be consumed by soaking for a few hours, even when potassium levels are high, as the potassium volatilizes and is washed away with the water(1).

What are causes of increased potassium?

There are several reasons for increased potassium in the body. We have listed most of the causes for you here, explaining the two most important ones for you:

  • medication
  • Kidney diseases and weaknesses
  • hormonal imbalances
  • insulin deficiency
  • dietary supplements

Elevated potassium levels can result from medications or dietary supplements(2). Medications that commonly increase potassium levels include beta-blockers, renin inhibitors, aldosterone antagonists, potassium chloride, amino acids, penicillin, and a few more(7). Such medicines can increase potassium levels in the body by blocking its elimination by the kidneys.

Medication and Supplements

Medications and supplements can greatly increase potassium levels in the body, thus contributing to hyperkalemia (Image source: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay)

In most cases of increased potassium, however, there is a problem with the kidneys. This disorder can be caused by chronic or acute weaknesses, diseases or tumors of the kidneys. As a result, the ailing or diseased kidney excretes too little potassium, causing the levels of potassium in the body to rise(2.8">.

What are the symptoms of high potassium?

With increased potassium in the body, also known as hyperkalemia, the symptoms usually express themselves differently and relatively unspecifically. Those affected usually experience tingling, also known as paresthesia, or muscle twitching. The initially small and mild symptoms can then lead to cardiac arrhythmias and, in the worst case, to cardiac arrest(6,2,5">.

Symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, tiredness, headaches and muscle weakness can also indicate increased potassium levels. In general, however, hyperkalemia has few to no symptoms. Due to the asymptomatic course, the increased values ‚Äč‚Äčare often only noticed by chance during tests and controls(7).

How can increased potassium in the body be tested?

If you suspect elevated potassium levels, you should contact your family doctor immediately to have an ECG, blood or urine test carried out. We have listed and explained the three most commonly used examinations for you here.

  • Blood test : When determining the potassium content, blood is taken and the potassium levels in it are measured. If only one value is increased, the potassium value should also be checked more closely.
  • Urine examination : In addition to blood tests, urine examinations are particularly valuable. The amount of potassium is checked and it is determined in which organs the potassium is lost or stuck (12).
  • ECG : With an ECG, also known as an electrocardiogram, all heart muscle activities are measured in order to determine changes. In the case of hyperkalemia, the T wave is very high and tapered, while the P wave is very broadened. However, such ECG examinations are not sufficient to control the potassium content(11).
blood and urine samples

Blood and urine tests are particularly important for the diagnosis of hyperkalemia because they can be checked quickly and easily. ECGs only show changes, which then have to be checked again. (Image source: Belova59 / Pixabay)

Is an elevated potassium level also possible in animals?

Potassium is not only important for us humans, potassium is also an essential mineral for animals. However, like us, hyperkalemia can also occur in animals and pets. Potassium is ingested in animals with food such as meat, fish and grains(13).

As with us, kidney diseases, urethral blockages or kidney failure in animals lead to a build-up of potassium in the body. The consequences can be cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks(13).

In order to prevent hyperkalemia in pets, you should check the potassium content of the food and consult a veterinarian immediately if you notice any strange symptoms. In general, regular checks are also necessary for animals.

What are the consequences of increased potassium?

The consequences of increased potassium in the body can be very different and also dangerous. When potassium is elevated, abnormal heart rhythms can occur and the electrocardiogram, also known as an EKG, can change. Ventricular arrhythmias often occur as a result of hyperkalemia, which then leads to the dreaded ventricular flutter and fibrillation in the heart(9).

Hyperkalemia is particularly dangerous in people who already have a damaged heart or who have had a heart attack (10). So you can see how important a normal and healthy potassium balance is. Especially for people with chronic problems. You can find out how to lower your potassium levels in the next section.

Potassium Elevated: Treatment and Help

To avoid possible hyperkalemia, you can take some preventive measures. If you have increased potassium, you should definitely see your doctor or doctor to clarify your levels and find a suitable therapy.

In the following paragraphs we have broken down the treatments in more detail for you.

Treatment methods for increased potassium

In our post, we have worked on two methods to lower potassium in the body. Treatment and diagnosis must be made by a doctor. An adapted diet can already help with slightly elevated potassium levels. In the case of high hyperkalemia, strong drugs are used, which we will briefly discuss in the following paragraph.

In any case, consult a doctor to clarify your condition and the associated treatment

Diet for elevated potassium levels

If you have hyperkalemia, you should change your diet a little to reduce your potassium intake. As mentioned above in the food section, there are foods with a lot and with little potassium. Low-potassium foods should be preferred when potassium levels are high.

In general, you should eat healthily and only swap out a few items from your diet.

  • While whole grain bread is healthier than white bread, it also has more potassium. Therefore, reach for light bread and products made from white flour.
  • For breakfast, cornflakes are lower in potassium than muesli.
  • The consumption of coffee and fruit juices should also be generally reduced and replaced with tea and water.
  • Quark dishes contain less potassium than yoghurt.
  • Rice and noodles are preferable as an accompaniment to meat or fish, since potatoes contain a lot of potassium(1,2,7">.

Licorice is considered an underestimated miracle cure. Although excessive consumption disturbs the organism and the mineral balance, certain substances also influence hormones in the kidneys. These hormones boost the excretion of potassium and the level goes down. However, licorice should not be overconsumed by people with pre-existing medical conditions and heart problems(14).

medication

Patients with severe hyperkalemia are treated with emergency intravenous calcium injections, infusions of glucose and insulin, and also salbutamol(5). These drugs are always prescribed by doctors and should not be taken haphazardly.

Possible diseases of the kidneys and other organs must also be treated with medication. A change in diet is not enough in the case of hyperkalemia, as kidney damage and problems remain.

prevention

In order to be able to take preventive measures against increased potassium levels, you should pay attention to your diet and have regular check-ups with your family doctor. For this you should read the points nutrition with increased potassium levels and foods with potassium carefully.

man in the desert

Many different diseases can be prevented or slowed down through exercise and a healthy diet (Image source: stokpic / Pixabay)

In general, you should eat a healthy and varied diet, exercise, and critically question food supplements from the supermarket. When self-medicating, you should be careful and not take potassium supplements with drugs rich in potassium. You can get advice on this at the pharmacy(15).

Conclusion

Potassium is an important element in our body. Without it we would be weak, sick and probably not alive at all. A certain amount of potassium is essential in our everyday life. However, diseases, dietary supplements and other factors can also lead to increased potassium levels, hyperkalemia(3,12,15">.

Elevated potassium levels are by no means harmless and must be checked with a doctor. The consequences can be very serious, from cardiac arrhythmias to heart attacks. Identifying hyperkalemia is problematic. It is often totally asymptomatic, i.e. completely without symptoms. It is therefore important from a certain age or in the case of chronic illnesses to have regular check-ups with doctors. In this way, changed values ‚Äč‚Äčcan be checked immediately and serious consequences can be prevented (2,5,6,7">.

References

  1. Univ.-Prof. dr Hans Hauner; low-potassium diet; Clinic for Nutritional Medicine, Munich; June 2010
  2. Too much potassium in the blood, with expert Dr. medical dr re. of course Peter Schlueter; family doctor.digital; 25.112019;
  3. Niemeyer MI, Cid LP, Barros LF, Sep√ļlveda FV. Modulation of the two-pore domain acid-sensitive K+ channel TASK-2 (KCNK5) by changes in cell volume. J Biol Chem. 2001 Nov 16
  4. Curhan GC, Willett WC, Speizer FE, Spiegelman D, Stampfer MJ. Comparison of dietary calcium with supplemental calcium and other nutrients as factors affecting the risk for kidney stones in women. Ann Intern Med. 1997 Apr 1
  5. Weiss M, Hess T. Hyperkalemia [hyperkalemia]. Switzerland Rundsch Med Prax. 1991 Jan
  6. Groene P, Hoffmann G. Safe treatment of acute hyperkalemia : The 1:4 and other principles. Anesthetist. 2017 June
  7. hyperkalemia; PharmaWiki; 4.1.2018
  8. Potassium Binders for Hyperkalemia in Chronic Kidney Disease‚ÄĒDiet, Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System Inhibitor Therapy, and Hemodialysis; Biff F Palmer; Mayo Clinic Proceedings; February 2020
  9. clinical pathophysiology; Walter Siegenthaler, Hubert E. Blum; Thieme Verlag, 2006
  10. Montford JR, Linas S. How Dangerous Is Hyperkalemia? J Am Soc Nephrol. 2017 Nov;28(11)
  11. Retrospective Review of the Frequency of ECG Changes in Hyperkalemia; Brian T Montague, Jason R Ouellette and Gregory K Buller; March 2008
  12. Kamel KS, Ethier JH, Richardson RM, Bear RA, Halperin ML. Urine electrolytes and osmolality: when and how to use them. Am J Nephrol. 1990;
  13. potassium in animals; dr Hölter vet team; 09/03/2013
  14. Potassium; lifeline; Author: Eva Schiwarth, medical author with a team of experts; December 10, 2015
  15. potassium balance in view; Pharmaceutical Newspaper; 10/14/2014; Issue 42
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