What Is Hyperkalemia?

Hyperkalemia is an electrolyte disorder in which the concentration of potassium in the blood is elevated. The best-known consequences of hyperkalemia are cardiac arrhythmias, but it can also cause muscle paralysis and even death. It is estimated that up to 8 percent of hospital admissions are due to hyperkalemia, and this makes it a serious health concern.

Causes of Hyperkalemia

The main causes of hyperkalemia are:

  • Kidney disease: When the kidneys are not able to excrete potassium, it can accumulate in the blood and lead to hyperkalemia.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors and potassium-sparing diuretics, can cause hyperkalemia by raising potassium levels in the blood.
  • Diet: Eating a diet too high in potassium can lead to hyperkalemia.
  • High levels of acidosis: Acidosis can interfere with the body’s ability to move potassium out of the blood and into other cells, leading to elevated potassium levels.

Symptoms of Hyperkalemia

The most common symptoms of hyperkalemia are irregular heartbeats and abnormal rhythms. The heartbeat may become slow, fast, or irregular. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, fatigue, abdominal pain, and nausea.

Risk Factors

The following factors may increase the risk of hyperkalemia:

  • Older age: Older individuals tend to be more sensitive to the effects of high potassium levels.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes are more prone to developing hyperkalemia.
  • Kidney disease: People with kidney disease are at higher risk for hyperkalemia due to poor potassium excretion.


Treatment for hyperkalemia depends on the underlying cause. The treatment goal is to normalize the potassium level in the blood, which may involve medications to lower the potassium level, as well as dietary and lifestyle modifications to reduce the amount of potassium in the diet. In severe cases, dialysis may be necessary.