Potassium is a type of electrolyte that the human body needs to maintain basic functions. Some of the roles that potassium plays include nerve cell function, protein synthesis, and muscle growth and movement. It also helps regulate water balance on the cellular level, as well as helps move nutrients into cells and disposes of toxic materials from cells. Potassium is found in many types of food, such as mangoes, bananas, apples, whole grains, nuts, and salmon.
Severe potassium deficiency is also known as hypokalemia, and some of its symptoms include disability in the nervous system and irregular heartbeat. However, the other extreme is also possible – hyperkalemia, or elevated potassium levels. This condition can be caused by the ineffective elimination of potassium from the body as a side effect of medication or because of an existing medical condition (such as kidney failure), or excessive intake of potassium dietary supplements. A person with diabetes is also prone to hyperkalemia (due to insulin deficiency). This is however more unusual than hypokalemia.
What happens if one has hyperkalemia? Read on:
- Mild paralysis and muscle weakness. One of the symptoms of hyperkalemia is difficulty moving one’s fingers or limbs due to muscle weakness.
- Irregular or disrupted heartbeat and palpitations. Palpitations could happen along with chest pains. In more serious cases, arrythmia, which pertains to an irregular or disrupted beating of the heart, can also be a symptom of elevated potassium levels. This is one of the more serious symptoms and a doctor should be consulted immediately.
- Diarrhea. This is another symptom of hyperkalemia, special for very high potassium levels.
- Feelings of discomfort. A sufferer could experience feelings of discomfort such as nausea, tingling sensations and fatigue.
These are just some of the general symptoms of elevated potassium levels. The problem is, there are some cases when hyperkalemia is asymptomatic, meaning there aren’t visible and distinct symptoms for it. That’s why it’s important to know if a person is prone to elevated potassium levels (see possible causes above), so that regular monitoring and check up for his potassium levels can be conducted.
In the most serious cases, hyperkalemia can lead to fatal heart stoppage or cardiac arrest. It is generally better for a patient to have his potassium levels elevate slowly, rather than it going up all at once.
There is no recommended dietary allowance for the amount of potassium in one’s body. However, normal potassium level is defined to be from 3.5 to 5.0 mEq/L (milliequivalent per liter). Very high potassium levels are at 7.0 mEq/L and above.
If you have been found to have hyperkalemia, it is very important to strictly follow doctor’s recommendations particularly regarding your diet. You should also consult him as to whether your current medications contain potassium; you may be assigned a substitute for them. You should also be careful to avoid caffeine and alcohol, since they are found to possibly cause electrolyte disturbances.
Remember, if you suspect that you have elevated potassium levels, there’s no better way than to consult with a trusted physician immediately.