What is Hyperkalemia (High Potassium)?

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What is Hyperkalemia (High Blood Potassium)Overview: Hyperkalemia is when there is a high level of potassium in the blood. Potassium is a vital nutrient; it is instrumental in helping muscles and nerves function properly. A potassium overdose however, can cause complications. In extreme cases of hyperkalemia, patients may experience cardiac arrest and death.  

Causes

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common cause of hyperkalemia is kidney dysfunction. The kidneys are responsible for filtering out substances from the blood in order to maintain balance in the body. When they are not functioning properly, there is a higher chance that excess potassium remains in the blood. If you have acute or chronic kidney failure, than taking additional potassium can increase the risk of hyperkalemia.

High potassium can also be the result of taking certain medications, such as NSAIDs. Drugs used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension), including ACE inhibitors and ARBs, are also associated with the condition.

Tekturna (aliskiren) is also a hypertension medication that has been linked to hyperkalemia. The drug is manufactured by Novartis, who conducted studies known as the ALTITUDE trials in attempt to show that Tekturna would be beneficial in type II diabetics. These trials were stopped last December when a review committee found an increased rate of hyperkalemia and other complications, including non-fatal stroke, renal complications and low blood pressure (hypotension) among participants.

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that patients with diabetes should not Tekturna with ARBs or ACE inhibitors due to the risk of hyperkalemia, hypotension and renal impairment.

Symptoms

According to Medline Plus, hyperkalemia can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Slow, weak or irregular pulse
  • Sudden collapse when the heart rhythm slows or stops completely

Hyperkalemia can also by asymptomatic, meaning that patients do not experience any symptoms.

Seeking Treatment  

Speak to your physician if you think you have high blood potassium. Your doctor will probably take a blood test in order to assess the concentration of potassium in your blood. An electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) is usually performed in cases where hyperkalemia is suspected. Make sure to tell your doctor if you take Tekturna or other medications associated with high potassium levels, or if you have a history of renal impairment.