Hyperkalemia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

It is an electrolyte imbalance, which is indicated by a high level of potassium in the blood.

The average adult value for potassium is 3.5 to 5.3 mEq / L. Potassium is one of the many electrolytes in the body that are found inside cells. Normal potassium levels are essential for the maintenance of the heart and the function of the nervous system.

What causes hyperkalemia?

The human body regulates potassium levels in the blood by exchanging potassium inside and outside the cells. When there is a breakdown or destruction of the cells, the potassium electrolyte moves from inside the cell to outside the cell wall.

This change of potassium out of the cells causes hyperkalemia. The kidneys excrete potassium, and any damage to them, when not functioning correctly, can cause an increase in the potassium levels that lead to this condition.

As seen with tumor lysis syndrome, when there is rapid cell destruction, the components of the cells (including potassium) will move out of the bloodstream.

People who receive chemotherapy for leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma may be at risk of contracting the tumor lysis syndrome if many diseases present.

Other causes of hyperkalemia include:

  • If you have diabetes, an insulin deficiency can cause hyperkalemia.
  • If you are bleeding internally, you may have hyperkalemia.
  • Some medicines containing potassium or preserving its amount, which is excreted through the kidneys, can cause hyperkalemia. These may include an angiotensin-converting enzyme or potassium-sparing diuretics, such as spironolactone.
  • If the kidneys cannot process and excrete potassium or other electrolytes due to kidney failure, they may be at risk for hyperkalemia.
  • The adrenal glands are essential regulators of potassium in your blood. Hormonal problems (such as adrenal insufficiency) can cause hyperkalemia.
  • Salt substitutes (containing potassium) or excessive potassium intake can cause hyperkalemia.

What are some symptoms of hyperkalemia?

  • You may not have any symptoms unless your blood potassium levels are significantly elevated.
  • Muscular weakness.
  • Diarrhea (with very high potassium levels).
  • Pain in the chest or heart palpitations.


Insulin injections are used to treat hyperkalemia in emergencies. Insulin is a hormone known to stimulate the entry of sugar (glucose) into cells.


It also causes the absorption of potassium ions by the cells, decreasing their concentration in the blood.

When insulin is used to treat hyperkalemia, glucose is also injected, causing potassium levels to decrease within 30 to 60 minutes and stay low for several hours.

In non-emergency situations, hyperkalemia can be treated with a diet low in potassium. If this is not successful, the patient can be supplied with a special resin to bind the potassium ions.