The human body is made up of certain minerals, each of which has a role to play to ensure a smooth function of the body. The body is considered healthy and working to its best ability when the prescribed balance of these minerals is maintained. When these minerals are lower or higher than the prescribed levels, an imbalance begins to manifest and affects the functioning of the different organs in the body.
What is hyperkalemia?
Medically speaking, hyperkalemia is defined as a health condition wherein the serum potassium concentration is higher than the prescribed values i.e. 3.5-5.1 mEq/L in adults. This range varies in children and infants and is largely age dependent. Potassium is an important electrolyte and a mineral constituent in the body, which is essential for the smooth functioning of the body muscles, nerves, and heart. Potassium is also important in regulating the function of internal organs like the kidneys. Potassium levels that are traced higher than 7 mEq/L can cause serious hemodynamic and neurological conditions. When these levels go beyond 8.5 mEq/L, it can result in respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrest, which are both life-threatening.
What are the common causes of hyperkalemia?
There are a number of causes that can lead to hyperkalemia, some of them include:
1. Kidney Diseases: Improper functioning of the kidneys or kidney impairment can lead to hyperkalemia. One of the primary functions of the kidneys is to balance the potassium levels that are consumed by the body to what is excreted from the body in the form of urine. The body receives potassium through food and fluid intake. The kidney then filters it and excretes it out through the urine. In cases of kidney disease or dysfunction, the kidneys are unable to remove the excess potassium from the body, which results in excess potassium build up in the body. As the kidney struggles to filter the excess potassium, hyperkalemia develops.
2. Potassium-Rich Diet: A potassium-rich diet refers to foods that have high potassium content such as cantaloupe, bananas, orange juice, honeydew melon, and spinach to name a few. In people suffering from advanced kidney diseases, eating potassium-rich foods can result in hyperkalemia.
3. Medications & Drugs: There are certain drugs that can restrict the kidneys from filtering out enough potassium. As a result, the potassium build up in the body can lead to hyperkalemia. Some of the medications that have been associated with hyperkalemia include:
- The use of antibiotics such as penicillin G and trimethoprim
- Blood pressure medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), and beta-blockers
- Blood thinners
- Herbal supplements such as lily of the valley, Siberian ginseng, and Hawthorn berries
- Potassium supplements
Other factors that can lead to hyperkalemia are:
- Consuming extra amounts of potassium by means of salts, supplements, and substitutes.
- For those who suffer from a disorder called “Addison disease,” hyperkalemia can also occur. Addison disease is a medical condition wherein the adrenal glands do not make enough adrenal hormones. The absence of these hormones can trigger certain responses in the body including hyperkalemia.
- In certain cases of severe burns or injuries, the body tends to release extra potassium in the blood as a response. This reaction can lead to hyperkalemia.
- Poor diabetes management can also lead to hyperkalemia. Uncontrolled diabetes can directly affect kidney functioning, thereby, causing hyperkalemia to happen.
Understanding the Symptoms of Hyperkalemia
Hyperkalemia can turn into a serious disease that can lead to life-threatening symptoms if not diagnosed and corrected on time. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all. For this reason, diagnosis can be delayed. Some of the common symptoms experienced in the case of hyperkalemia are:
- extreme tiredness, weakness, or fatigue
- numbness or tingling sensations
- nausea or vomiting
- respiratory problems
- chest pain
- heart palpitations
Hyperkalemia can be hard to diagnose. Many times, the symptoms can be mild, but since they overlap with other symptoms, it can be hard to conclude. For the initial screening of hyperkalemia, the doctor will first conduct a physical examination by listening to the patient’s heartbeat, asking one’s medical history, diet, and medications used. It is important to inform the doctor about the complete list of medications that are being consumed by the patient. Blood tests are conducted to find out the potassium levels present in the bloodstream and urine. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is done to check the functioning of the heart and locate any abnormalities of the breathing patterns.
The treatment course of the disease is directly based according to the development of the condition. An increased level of potassium in the bloodstream is also an important factor in the treatment of the disease. A more aggressive therapy approach is required in cases where the patient’s serum potassium has reached higher levels, thus, increasing the toxicity level in the blood.
Dealing with a Moderate Rise in Potassium
In cases where potassium moderately increases with no visible abnormalities detected in the ECG, an excretion process can be carried out through a resin exchange or by using diuretics to flush excess potassium out of the system. To treat the moderate rise of potassium in the blood, drugs such as the Kionex suspension is administered to the patient. Through the use of sodium polystyrene sulfonate (Kionex suspension), the potassium in the blood is directed towards the large intestine through which it is excreted out of the body.
In cases where patients have severe hyperkalemia, the therapy course aims at the immediate stabilization of myocardial cell membranes, thereby causing a rapid shift of potassium to the intracellular space. This movement enables the elimination of potassium out from the body.
For patients with renal failure, hemodialysis is the chosen therapy. Dialysis is a more definitive therapy in cases where medicinal therapy is not sufficient to reduce the potassium levels in the body.
Any treatment that the patient is having should be under expert care and supervision. In most cases, hospitalization is advised. Once the potassium levels in the blood have been stabilized and restored, the therapies will be stopped. The patient’s serum potassium levels will be monitored until the health care practitioner says otherwise.
A low potassium diet that ranges from 2,000-3,000 mg of potassium per day needs to be followed. Calcium supplements can also be given to the patient to protect the myocardium from the deleterious effects of hyperkalemia.
Preventing hyperkalemia is difficult since most of its causes are sudden. It also results in long-term diseases and ailments. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in keeping the body healthy. Regular exercise with cardio activity can help manage diabetes, thereby preventing the disease from affecting organs like the kidney. While monitoring people with diabetes, a blood test to know the creatinine and potassium levels is recommended to keep track of the disease. Since the occurrence of hyperkalemia is dependent on other diseases, effective management of the underlying conditions can help prevent this disease.
Treating Hyperkalemia Using Alternative Medicine
Hyperkalemia is usually an emergency situation, thus, alternative medicine is not usually advised to be included as one of its treatments.