Hyperkalemia is a medical term for elevated level of potassium in blood. Potassium is an essential electrolyte that plays different important roles in the body, hence its level must be optimal and never exceed or be under the defined range. Optimal amount of potassium is necessary for proper functioning of different organs and organ systems including the heart, muscles (both the smooth muscles and skeletal muscles) and nerves.
Regular intake and adequate elimination of potassium maintain the prefect balance of the electrolyte inside the body. The level of potassium ranges between 3.5 and 5.0 mEq/L (milliEquivalents per liter). Any elevation beyond the limit is considered hyperkalemia. In mild hyperkalemia the level of potassium goes between 5.1 and 6.0 mEq/L, while any further elevation of the electrolyte leads to moderate and severe hyperkalemia.
What Causes High Potassium Levels in Blood?
In general, the problem of hyperkalemia may result from excessive intake of the electrolyte or its improper elimination via kidneys. The second reason is more frequently associated with hyperkalemia.
98% of all potassium in the body is located inside the body cells. The remnant potassium circulates in the blood. The increase in the level of potassium may be induced by transfer of potassium from the cells into the blood. This transfer typically affects people suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis.
Furthermore, elevated level of potassium is also a characteristic of several more medical conditions such as different kidney diseases and disorders of the adrenal glands. Even intake of certain medications (NSAIDs, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, certain diuretics etc.) may cause rapid of gradual increase of potassium in the blood.
It is obvious that any kind of damage to different cells in the body results in release of potassium into the blood and its subsequent increase. This is why hyperkalemia results from many conditions associated with destruction of different body tissue such as trauma, burns, surgical procedures, tumor lysis, hemolysis, rhambdomyolysis etc.Clinical Characteristics of High Potassium Levels in Blood
Mild increase of potassium in the blood remains asymptomatic. Symptoms and signs only occur if hyperkalemia becomes moderate or severe. Common complaints of patients whose potassium is significantly increased are muscle weakness, tiredness, tingling sensation and nausea. These basically occur if the level of potassium exceeds 7 mEq/L.
More severe increase in potassium is associated with complex complications such as a slow heart rate, weak pulse and potentially fatal abnormalities of electrical activity of the heart. These can be reported on EKG (electrocardiogram). The condition is serious, potentially life-threatening and requires prompt medical help and correction of the imbalance.