Science, Tech, Math › Science Hyperkalemia or High Potassium What Is Hyperkalemia? Share Flipboard Email Print Hyperkalemia is a condition where there is too much potassium in the body. Science Picture Co, Getty Images Science Chemistry Medical Chemistry Basics Chemical Laws Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Chemistry Expert Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Updated July 03, 2019 Hyperkalemia breaks down to mean hyper- high; kalium, potassium; -emia, "in the blood" or high potassium in the blood. Potassium in the bloodstream is the K+ ion, not potassium metal, so this illness is one type of electrolyte imbalance. The normal concentration of the potassium ion in blood is 3.5 to 5.3 mmol or milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). Concentrations of 5.5 mmol and higher describe hyperkalemia. The opposite condition, low blood potassium levels, is termed hypokalemia. Mild hyperkalemia typically isn't identified except through a blood test, but extreme hyperkalemia is a medical emergency that can result in death, usually from heart arrhythmia. Hyperkalemia Symptoms The symptoms of elevated potassium are not specific to the condition. Mainly the effects are on the circulatory and nervous system. They include: weaknessmalaiseheart palpitationshyperventilation Causes of Hyperkalemia Hyperkalemia results when too much potassium is taken into the body, when cells massively release potassium into the bloodstream, or when the kidneys can't properly excrete potassium. There are numerous causes of hyperkalemia, including: kidney diseasediabetes (leading to nephropathy)medications that affect urination (NSAIDS, diuretics, antibiotics, etc.)diseases associated with a mineralocorticoid deficiencymassive blood transfusionany major tissue damage, whether it be from injury (burns, serious wounds) or medical treatment (notably chemotherapy)excessive dietary intake of potassium-rich foods (e.g., salt substitute, bananas)intentional hyperkalemia as the last step of lethal injection, to disrupt and stop the heart Not that it's highly unusual for a person with ordinary kidney function to "overdose" on potassium from foods. Excess potassium resolves itself if the kidneys are able to process an overload. If the kidneys are damaged, hyperkalemia becomes an ongoing concern. Preventing Hyperkalemia In some cases, it's possible to prevent potassium buildup by limiting dietary intake of potassium-rich foods, taking diuretics, or ending a medication that causes a problem. Hyperkalemia Treatment Treatment depends on the cause and severity of hyperkalemia. In a medical emergency, the goal is to shift the potassium ion from the bloodstream into cells. Injecting insulin or salbutamol temporarily lowers serum potassium levels.