Potassium is an essential nutrient in our body, as it is used in many basic functions such as for the function of the muscular and nervous systems, the regulation of water and nutrients at the cellular level, and the regulation of heart function and blood pressure. Most of the potassium found in the body is utilized, and the excess are typically excreted naturally. Normal potassium levels are at 3.5 to 5.0 mEq/L (that is, milliequivalent per liter).
There are cases when potassium levels are too low, and this condition is called hypokalemia. Some symptoms of hypokalemia include constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Over time, hypokalemia could lead to kidney damage. This condition can be avoided through a diet rich in potassium.
There are also some cases when a body has too much potassium levels that it can pose a danger to health. This condition is called hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia happens mostly if the body is unable to excrete the excess potassium in its system, due to preexisting medical conditions such as kidney failure (about three quarters of all hyperkalemia cases are due to this condition). It could also occur if the patient is taking medication that contains potassium. Yet another cause is Addison’s disease, a condition that affects the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands aid in the excretion of potassium into the urine.
What are some of the symptoms of high potassium levels in the body? Read on:
- Severe discomfort. Some of the more immediate effects of high potassium levels include fatigue, nausea, confusion, and shallow breathing.
- Muscle weakness. A patient suffering from hyperkalemia can start feeling some weakness in the muscles, even up to the point of muscle paralysis.
- Palpitations. This is one of the more distinct symptoms of hyperkalemia. A patient may begin to have uneven and irregular heartbeat and palpitations over a short period of time.
- Heart problems. The most critical side effects of high potassium levels in the body will have something to do with heart functions. A patient with very high potassium levels (7.0 mEq/L and above) could suffer from arrythmia, blood pressure problems, atherosclerosis, and even cardiac arrest.
In some cases, hyperkalemia is asymptomatic; that is, the sufferers don’t exhibit distinct symptoms that would clearly point to high potassium levels, until it becomes too severe. Since hyperkalemia is common among the elderly and those with kidney problems, it’s a good idea to regularly monitor their potassium levels. You could also consult with a doctor if their medication (particularly for blood pressure) contain potassium.
For those at risk of hyperkalemia, it helps to change their diet so to decrease their potassium intake. Some foods that are high in potassium (and which must be avoided) include mangoes, bananas, peaches, potatoes, watermelon, tomatoes and salmon. Consult with the physician as to whether there can be substitute for any medication that contains potassium. The possible causes of hyperkalemia should be treated as well.
It’s very important that we’re always in the know as to the condition of our health, as prevention truly is better than any cure. Good luck!