|Also Listed As:
|| Potassium, Excess in
Hyperkalemia is an excess of serum potassium. Most potassium in the body
(98%) is found within cells; only a small amount usually circulates in the
bloodstream. The balance of potassium between the cells and the blood is
critical to the body. It affects the way the cell membranes work and governs the
action of the heart and the pathways between the brain and the muscles. If you
have excess potassium in the blood, it is usually excreted by the kidneys.
However, the levels can get too high if your kidneys aren't working right, which
is the most common cause of hyperkalemia. Another cause is damaged cells'
releasing potassium into the bloodstream faster than even normal kidneys can
clear it. Medications or diet may also affect the amount of potassium in the
blood. Hyperkalemia is a serious condition that must be treated
|Signs and Symptoms|
- Tingling, numbness, or other unusual sensations
- Difficulty breathing
|What Causes It?|
Hyperkalemia has many causes, including the following.
- Kidney problems
- Too much acid in the blood, as sometimes seen in diabetes
- Diet high in potassium (bananas, oranges, tomatoes, high protein
diets, salt substitutes, potassium supplements)
- Trauma, especially crush injuries or burns
- Addison's disease
- Certain medications
|What to Expect at Your Provider's Office|
You may not be feeling any effects of your hyperkalemia; your health care
provider may discover it during a routine blood test or electrocardiogram.
Hyperkalemia can cause life-threatening effects without warning. If you
experience the symptoms of hyperkalemia, you should call 911 or get to an
emergency room. You should expect to be admitted to the hospital for further
tests and so that your condition can be stabilized. You will be given
medications to take care of the immediate problem, but more tests may need to be
done to determine the underlying cause. If the medications are not successful in
lowering the potassium level in your blood, dialysis may be
The medications that treat hyperkalemia are meant to stabilize cardiac
function, promote the movement of potassium from the bloodstream back into the
cells, and encourage the excretion of excess potassium.
- Insulin—promotes potassium shift from blood
- Sodium bicarbonate—promotes potassium shift
from blood to cells
- Beta agonists—promote potassium shift from
blood to cells
- Diuretics—cause potassium excretion from
- Binding resins—promote potassium/sodium
exchange in the gastrointestinal system
|Complementary and Alternative Therapies|
Alternative therapies can provide concurrent support and in treatment of the
underlying cause once your condition has been stabilized.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, refined foods, sugar, and saturated fats
(meat proteins and dairy products). Eliminate high-potassium foods.
- Drink more water; dehydration can make hyperkalemia worse.
- Eat small amounts of protein and more vegetable proteins and fish
than chicken and red meats.
- Small, frequent meals can help prevent hypoglycemia.
- Magnesium (200 mg two to three times per day) helps regulate
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites
(glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made with
1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or
flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.
Of primary concern is the effect of hyperkalemia on the
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) increases cardiac output without
increasing cardiac load. It dilates blood vessels, helps stabilize cardiac
arrhythmias, and also supports liver function. Compromised liver function and
poor fat digestion can make hyperkalemia worse. Drink 3 to 4 cups of tea per
- Lily of the valley (Convalleria majalis) increases cardiac
output and has a regulating effect on heart rhythm. It is a diuretic that
relieves swelling and has a neutral to slightly lowering effect on sodium and
potassium. This herb has toxic side effects and should not be used without
supervision from your health care
Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.
Contrast hydrotherapy. Alternating hot and cold applications brings nutrients
to the site and eases inflammation. Use the applications over the kidneys.
Alternate three minutes hot with one minute cold. Repeat three times to complete
one set. Do two to three sets per day.
Acupuncture may be helpful in supporting normal kidney
Swedish massage may help to stimulate the
Your health care provider will probably ask to see you two or three days
after you are discharged from the hospital, to repeat the potassium tests and
electrocardiogram, and check your kidney function. He or she will review all the
medications you are taking, and perhaps advise a change.
If you are on regular dialysis, make sure you keep strictly to your schedule
to avoid hyperkalemia and other serious problems.
Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic
Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine
Lee HS, Yu YC, Kim ST, Kim KS. Effects of moxibustion on blood pressure and
renal function in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Am J Chin Med.
Wheeless CR. Management of Hyperkalemia. Wheeless' Textbook of
Orthopaedics. 1996. Accessed at
http://wheeless.belgianorthoweb.be/oo3/24.htm on February 17, 1999.
Zwanger M. Hyperkalemia. Emergency Medicine Online Text. 1998.
Accessed at http://www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic261.htm on February 13,
|Review Date: August 1999|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Joseph Lamb, MD, The Integrative
Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA; David Perlmutter, MD, Perlmutter Health Center,
Commons Medical and Surgical Centre, Naples, FL; Scott Shannon, MD, Integrative
Psychiatry, Medical Director, McKee Hospital Center for Holistic Medicine, Fort
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
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