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Is Your Potassium Level Too High? There Are Ways to Lower It

Is Your Potassium Level Too High? There Are Ways to Lower It

This article is for people who have hyperkalemia or anyone who wants to learn more about hyperkalemia. The goal of this patient education activity is to help patients with hyperkalemia be active in the management of their care plan and lower their potassium level.

You will learn:

  • What potassium is and why your body needs it

  • What causes too much potassium in your blood (hyperkalemia)

  • Why it's important to lower your potassium level if it is too high

  • How to lower your potassium level if it is too high

  • Medicines used to treat hyperkalemia

  • Questions to ask your doctor

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What Is Potassium?

Potassium is a mineral that everyone needs for normal function of the muscles, heart, and nerves.

Potassium also helps manage the amount the fluid in your body and helps you to keep from getting dehydrated.

The amount of potassium in the blood can increase (also called hyperkalemia) as a result of some diseases and medicines.

What Causes Your Potassium Level to be Too High?

The most common cause of high potassium level in the blood is kidney disease.

Your kidneys help control the amount of potassium in your body by filtering it out of your bloodstream. If your kidneys are unable to filter the potassium out, it stays in your blood and the level gets too high.

Other causes of hyperkalemia include:

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Some medicines that treat heart problems and high blood pressure

  • Too much potassium in your diet

Why Is It Important to Keep Your Potassium Level Normal?

High blood potassium can be a serious and life-threatening condition. When potassium levels are too high, the heart, nerves, and muscles are affected.

High blood potassium changes the way your heart beats, causing abnormal heart rhythms, called arrhythmias, which can cause your heart to stop beating.

High potassium levels can also cause:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Muscle weakness or spasms

  • Fatigue

  • Stomach cramps

  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the body

How Do You Know If You Have a High Potassium Level?

If you are being treated for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, you should have the potassium level in your blood checked.

Your doctor may also want to check your heart rhythm by doing an electrocardiogram (ECG).

How Are High Potassium Levels Treated?

High potassium levels can be treated a number of ways.

Your doctor may recommend that you change your diet.

There are also medicines that can help lower your potassium levels.

Your doctor will look at your medical conditions, the medicines you are taking, and your potassium level to determine a treatment plan that is right for you.

A patient discusses how he successfully manages his hyperkalemia with medicines and diet.

What You Can Do to Change Your Diet

Reducing the amount of potassium in your diet is a first step in treating high blood potassium. For some, this will fix the condition.

Foods that are high in potassium and should be avoided if you have high potassium level include:

  • Vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, spinach, and tomatoes

  • Fruits, like bananas, kiwis, pears, and apricots

  • Most dairy products (but not cheese or sour cream)

  • Whole grains, like bran and oats

  • Dry beans and nuts

  • Red meat

  • Salt substitutes

A dietitian can help you create a low-potassium diet plan that can work for you.

What Medicines Are Used to Treat High Potassium Levels?

There are a few types of medicines available to treat high potassium levels.

Water pills (diuretics) increase the removal of water, salt, and potassium from the body. 

There are 2 medicines that work by binding to extra potassium in the intestines so the potassium does not make it into the bloodstream.

The extra potassium is eliminated in your stool. These medicines are in a powder form that you mix with water and drink. The new medicines are:   

  • Patiromer (Veltassa®)

  • Sodium zirconium cyclosilicate (Lokelma®)

An older potassium-binding medicine called sodium polystyrene sulfonate (Kayexalate®) may also be used.

Are There Side Effects?

The more common side effects of diuretics include low sodium level, headache, dizziness, thirst, and muscle cramps.

Common side effects of patiromer are constipation, diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, and gas.

Side effects of sodium zirconium cyclosilicate are fluid retention (also called edema) in the legs, feet, arms, or hands.

Side effects of sodium polystyrene sulfonate are the same as with patiromer, but also include more serious side effects like fast heartbeat and muscle weakness.

Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor

  • What is my potassium level?

  • Why is it important to lower my potassium level?

  • What can I do to help lower my potassium level?

  • What medicines can I take to lower my potassium level?

  • What are the side effects of these medicines?

  • How will I know the medicines are working?

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Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD

Sr Scientific Director, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Heather Lewin, MAT

Sr Scientific Content Manager, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Heather Lewin, MAT, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Donald Hannaford

Medical Writer, Rumson, NJ

Disclosure: Donald Hannaford has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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