What does a high level of potassium in the blood?

Check with your doctor. Thomas Northcut Save / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Potassium is essential for many vital processes in the body. Potassium is involved in the proper functioning of nerve and muscle cells, digestion, metabolism and maintenance of the balance of both electrical and chemical processes in the body. Potassium is particularly important in cardiac function. Mayo Clinic explains the range of normal potassium level is between 3.6 and 4.8 mEq / L. A high level of potassium in the blood is often indicative of an underlying renal dysfunction.


The high level of potassium in the blood or hyperkalemia, often indicates that the body is producing an excess of potassium or kidneys can not remove excess potassium correctly. Hyperkalemia may indicate renal failure, infection, obstruction or transplant rejection. Hormone aldosterone regulates how the kidneys remove excess sodium and potassium. Lack of aldosterone can lead to a high potassium level, according to the National Institutes of Health. At any time releases of potassium from the cells can increase levels of potassium. A condition known as acidosis move potassium from inside the cells to the outside fluid. Tissue injuries such as burns, traumatic injury, haemolytic conditions in which blood cells burst and muscle wasting can lead to acidosis and increased serum potassium.


A slight increase in serum potassium often causes no symptoms. However, when potassium increases, causes changes in the electrical functions of the body, which interferes with the ability of the heart to beat properly. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that as potassium increases, people tend to notice muscle aches and cramps, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, nausea and weak or absent pulses. Serum potassium high can lead to life-threatening complications, including paralysis, cardiac arrest and death.


Testing for a high level of potassium involve a simple blood test performed in the office or in a hospital laboratory. Usually, medical staff develop a panel of electrolytes and testing of liver and kidney function. Elevated serum potassium does not necessarily mean that the kidneys are malfunctioning or there is an underlying disease process. In some cases, a high potassium levels may appear falsely elevated. Doctors often repeat the test if they suspect an error.


There are many reasons why a person potassium may appear high. Lab Tests Online explains that tighten and relax the fist several times during sample collection can cause a false elevation. Tests inadequate blood by the laboratory can also lead to falsely elevated by allowing the sample to stand at room temperature for too long before testing. The shallow, rapid breathing or crying can also lead to falsely elevated.


If doctors confirm the diagnosis of hyperkalemia, treatment will involve not only the treatment of the underlying disease, but also the balance of potassium levels. Calcium chloride or gluconate help minimize the effects of excess potassium in the heart. Insulin, sodium bicarbonate and beta agonists help promote change potassium blood cells, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Diuretics can help promote the excretion of excess calcium in the kidneys.