Too Much Potassium

Potassium is one of the primary electrolytes responsible for efficient cardiac function. Too much or too little potassium can cause heart irregularities and can lead to death. When you have too much potassium in your bloodstream, you have a condition called hyperkalemia. This condition must be treated quickly to prevent further cardiac problems. This article will explain why you get too much potassium in your body and how to know if you have too much potassium so that you can better prevent this condition.

Too Much Potassium

Normal Potassium Level in Body

Normal potassium levels will typically range from 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles/liter (mmol/L). This will vary depending on your age and gender and different labs may have different reference values. Any serum potassium level higher than 7.0 mmol/L will require immediate intervention by a healthcare professional.

Recommended Daily Intake of Potassium

How much potassium should you take in each day? That will vary depending on your age and kidney function. This chart outlines general recommendations for healthy individuals. If you are not healthy, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before increasing or decreasing your intake of potassium.


Recommended Daily Potassium Intake

0-6 months

400 milligrams daily

7-12 months

700 milligrams daily

1-3 years

3000 milligrams daily

4-8 years

3800 milligrams daily

9-13 years

4500 milligrams daily

>13 years

4700 milligrams daily

Lactating women

5100 milligrams daily

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of too Much Potassium in Body?

How do you know if you have too much potassium in your body? There are a few signs and symptoms that may alert you to this problem, but the only certain way to know is to have your serum potassium level checked by a healthcare provider.

1. Gastrointestinal

The earliest symptoms of too much potassium in the body may be problems in your gastrointestinal tract. You may begin to have frequent and sustained bouts of nausea and vomiting. You may also have abdominal pain.

2. Cardiac

Critical signs to watch for are those involving your cardiovascular system. Since potassium helps regulate cardiac function, too much potassium may result in heart arrhythmias. Symptoms may include an irregular heart rhythm, chest pain or dizziness. Due to the deadly nature of heart arrhythmias, any of these symptoms should prompt an immediate visit to your doctor or to the Emergency Department.

3. Respiratory and Neurological

Potassium is also involved with normal functioning of your nervous system. Signs and symptoms of neurological problems may include tingling or numbness in your hands and feet or generalized weakness. Since nerves control the diaphragm, disruption of your nervous system may result in respiratory problems including respiratory arrest.

Causes of too Much Potassium

What are the various causes of too much potassium in your body? There are several major causes.

1. Kidney Diseases

Your kidneys are responsible for filtering and removing excess potassium from your body. Probably the most common cause of too much potassium in your body is one of the many kidney diseases. If you have kidney failure, you may experience hyperkalemia. Any disease that causes a decrease in aldosterone (the hormone that controls kidney excretion of sodium and potassium) will also cause increased levels of potassium. The most common disease causing this problem is Addison’s disease.

2. Dietary Intake

If your kidneys are healthy, it is difficult to get too much potassium through your food intake. If you have kidney issues, you should limit or avoid foods that are high in potassium including most salt substitutes, raisins and grapes, bananas, melons, oranges, blackberries, artichokes, avocadoes, red meats, some fish, chicken, dairy products, seeds and nuts, spinach, and carrots. If you are diagnosed with hyperkalemia, you should work with a dietician to create a healthy diet that will cut down on your potassium intake.

3. Other Health Problems

Potassium is normally present in the cells of your body. If these cells break down for any reason, potassium will be released into your blood stream and may cause a spike in your potassium level. For example, extensive burns or other tissue injury will cause cells to rupture and a release of potassium. Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown) and hemolysis (red cell breakdown) will release potassium. Diabetes that is poorly controlled can also cause hyperkalemia. Other diseases that may affect the body’s ability to eliminate potassium include kidney disease or failure, hormonal problems and lupus.

4. Medications and Supplements

Finally, there are some medications that can be a cause of too much potassium in the body. Some of these medications include:

  • Some antibiotics and antifungal drugs
  • ACE Inhibitors, ARBs and beta blockers that may be prescribed to control blood pressure
  • Heparin that may be prescribed as a blood thinner
  • Any of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Motrin)
  • Potassium sparing diuretics. Typically, diuretics will lead to a decreased potassium level; however, potassium sparing diuretics may actually result in too high a level of potassium in your body
  • Potassium supplements
  • Some over-the-counter herbal supplements (Ginseng, Hawthorn berries, milkweed and lily of the valley) may lead to hyperkalemia

When to See a Doctor

The bad news is that you may not know you have high potassium until you begin to have life-threatening symptoms such as cardiac rhythm changes or difficulty breathing. If you have any reason to believe your potassium level may be too high, get in to see your healthcare provider immediately. If you develop any of the signs and symptoms including muscle fatigue, paralysis, weakness, nausea and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

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