Hyperkalemia

In medical terminology, hyperkalemia is a health condition when there is excessive potassium concentration in one's blood stream. Basically, potassium is a vital nutrient that is vital for the functioning of the cells in our muscles and nerves, counting the cells in the heart muscles. Generally, the potassium level in our blood stream should be anything between 3.6 and 5.2 mmol/ L (millimoles per litre). If the potassium level in your blood stream is in excess of 7 mmol/ L, you need instant treatment, for such high potassium levels in the blood may prove to be risky.

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Under normal circumstances, the kidneys get rid of surplus potassium in the body. Elevated levels of potassium may occur when one's kidneys are not functioning optimally and are unable to eliminate the excessive potassium from the body.

Even if you suspect that your kidneys are functioning poorly, you should avoid taking additional potassium, as it may result in health problems. For instance, avoid using salt substitutes containing potassium. Also avoid taking potassium supplements even if they have been recommended by your health care provider.

There are specific medications that may result in a rise in the potassium levels in your blood stream, as they have adverse effects on your kidneys. Medicines that affect the kidneys negatively include diuretics (water pills) and medicines for blood pressure.

The cells may release potassium any time and this may result in accumulation of fluids in the body, counting the blood stream. Acidosis results in the transfer of potassium within the cells into the fluid present outside the cells.

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Some injuries may also cause the level of potassium to rise in the body. Such injuries may include any damage to the muscles as well as other cells in the body owing to drugs, certain infections, injuries, alcohol abuse and coma. Burn injuries over large body areas, tumours, and severe hemorrhage from the stomach as well as the intestines may also lead to excessive potassium levels in the body. In addition, hemolytic anemia (a condition that results in the bursting of blood cells) may also cause hyperkalemia.

In addition, Addison's disease also leads to hyperkalemia, as the potassium level in the body rises due to this disease.

Emergency treatment is necessary for everyone who has excessively high levels of potassium in their body or if there is any sign of danger, for instance changes in an ECG.

Emergency treatment for hyperkalemia may be given in various ways. If you are suffering from high levels of potassium that affect the heart and muscles, the treatment may include intravenous injection of calcium. On the other hand, glucose and insulin are administered in the patient's veins (IV) to bring down the level of potassium in the body for a prolonged period and cure the condition. If the kidneys are not functioning well or normally, the patient may also have to undergo kidney dialysis. In addition, some medications that help to get rid of potassium before it is absorbed in the intestines may also be administered to the treat hyperkalemia. Often, the patient is also administered sodium bicarbonate if the high levels of potassium are due to acidosis.

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Even water pills or diuretics also help in treating hyperkalemia as they help to lessen the levels of potassium in the body by flushing out the surplus amount through urination. Moreover, making necessary changes in one's diet can not only help to prevent the accumulation of potassium in the body, but also cure hyperkalemia. People who are suffering from very high levels of potassium in their blood stream may be asked by their physicians or health care providers to restrict their consumption of or completely stay away from some foods like potatoes, asparagus, tomato or tomato sauces, avocado, pumpkin, winter squash (turban squash, banana squash) and even cooked spinach.

At the same time restricting the consumption of or avoiding certain foods like kiwis, bananas, prunes, cantaloupe, orange and orange juices, specific dried fruits and nectarines will also help to treat hyperkalemia. In addition, if you have high levels of potassium in your body, it is advisable that you never take salt substitutes, especially those containing potassium. This is particularly important for people who have been asked to take a diet low in salt content.

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If you are suffering from hyperkalemia, it is possible that your physician will make some changes in the medications that you may be taking from before. For instance, your doctor may ask you to take less amounts of or completely stop taking any supplement that contains potassium. At the same time it is important to stop taking or change the doses of specific medications that you may be taking. Some of these medications include angiotensin receptor blockers, ACE inhibitors, amiloride (Midamor), spironolactone (Aldactone), or triamterene (Dyrenium).

As in any other case, you should always strictly follow the directions and instructions of your physician or health care provider while taking medications to treat high levels of potassium in the body. Below are a few instructions/ guidelines for people taking medications to treat hyperkalemia.

It is advisable that people taking medications for treating elevated levels of potassium in their body should never start taking any new medication or stop taking any the medications that they have been using from before without consulting their physician or health care provider. In addition, they should try to follow the prescribed schedule very strictly - or as closely as feasible. Such patients should also make it a point to tell their physician about all their problems, medical history, and medications, supplements or vitamins that they have been taking from before.

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In order to identify as well as avail the best treatment for hyperkalemia, it is important to be familiar with the symptoms related to presence of excessive amounts of potassium in the blood stream. Symptoms related to this condition may include fatigue, debility of the muscles, nausea, and/ or tingling in the tongue or the extremities. Occasionally, people suffering from very high levels of potassium in their body may also experience shallow breathing, confusion, convulsions or seizures, feeling faint or a heavy sensation in their limbs. However, it is important to note that the patient is unlikely to experience most of these symptoms until the potassium level is dangerously high and their condition becomes severe. When the levels of potassium continue to increase in the blood stream, it may result in slow or irregular heartbeat, paralysis and when the condition becomes extremely severe, it may also stop the heart. When the levels of potassium reach this high, the patient should essentially undergo treatment in a hospital. Long-term treatment can commence only after the patient's condition has become stable.

Acute Treatment
In the hospital, patients suffering from severe hyperkalemia can be treated with beta agonists, insulin or sodium bicarbonate - all these substances encourage potassium to move from the blood stream into the cells. Such patients may even be administered diuretics with a view to facilitate the kidneys flush out excessive potassium in the body. On the other hand, binding resins like Kayexalate may prove to be helpful for the digestive system, as they promote the swap over of potassium and sodium. In extreme conditions, the patients may be required to undergo dialysis to remove excessive potassium from the blood stream, especially if the patient's kidneys are not functioning properly.

Long-term Treatment
Generally, long-term treatment of hyperkalemia includes treating the basic health issues that are responsible for the abnormal rise in potassium levels in the body. In many cases, poorly functioning kidneys may be responsible for the condition, as they are the main organ of the body that clean potassium from the blood. At the same time, any medication that helps in retaining potassium in the body is discontinued immediately. Such medications include ACE inhibitors, diuretics like Aldactone, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Bactrim or Dyrenium. In addition, the patient may require a specially designed diet that will help to lower the levels of potassium. Such a diet will prevent the patient from taking foods that are rich in potassium content, for instance avocados, bananas, potatoes, peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, salmon, and lentils. At the same time, the patient may be administered some medications, especially diuretics that help the body to flush out excessive potassium from the body.

Supplements and herbs

This condition can be treated effectively by administering insulin, calcium and salbutamol intravenously. Administering norepinephrine and adrenaline injections can also help to treat elevated levels of serum. On the other hand, you can prevent hyperkalemia by avoiding foods that are rich in potassium content, such as oranges, potatoes and tomatoes (see above). You can also prevent this condition from occurring by drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly. However, even all these may not be enough to cure the condition and, hence, you need to take medications such as diuretics and thiazides.

Even use of herbs can prove to be helpful in treating hyperkalemia. However, all herbs should essentially be used under the supervision of a professional health care professional. It is recommended that people with high levels of potassium in their body should take about 150 mg of licorice every day to facilitate lowering the levels of potassium. Here is a word of caution. People with hypertension (high blood pressure) or enduring heart problems should never take licorice. If you have been diagnosed with hyperkalemia you should also stay away from using herbs like alfalfa, dandelion, nettle and horsetail. All these herbs have the potential to increase the potassium level further, thereby worsening the condition further.

Additional things you may do

Apart from taking medications and herbs, you can do several other things to treat the problems owing to excessive levels of potassium in the body. It is important to drink lots of water and exercise regularly. It is important to note that when you become dehydrated, the high levels of potassium in the body can rise further. In addition, exercising regularly may prove to be a natural way to treat hyperkalemia. Ideally, people with high potassium levels should work-out for 30 minutes every day, five days every week to alleviate the problems experienced by them owing to hyperkalemia.

It is also important to treat your kidneys since it has been found that malfunctioning kidneys are the main cause of hyperkalemia. In fact, acupuncture and Swedish massage are known to be natural treatments that promote normal functioning of the kidneys. If it is detected that the rise in potassium levels in the body is owing to poorly functioning kidneys, hyperkalemia patients may drink cranberry juice or a tea prepared from marshmallow. This will not only help to clean the kidneys, but also eliminate all harmful bacteria.

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