Excess of potassium – when can it occur and what are its symptoms?

Excess of potassiumPotassium is the most important electrolyte in the body, the amount of which is kept at a fixed level. The physiological concentration of potassium in blood is 3,5 – 5,5 mmol/l – every value above and below this range can lead to heart disorders. Excessive potassium in the body is defined as hyperkalaemia and occurs as often as hypokalaemia, which is insufficient potassium level in the body.

It is rare for hyperkalaemia to be caused by abusing supplements that contain potassium – if they are administrated as recommended, they make a valuable supplementation of the potassium supply in the diet. Which can be even half as low as the recommended daily consumption of this element. Where does excessive potassium in the body come from, then?

How is the potassium level in the body regulated?

Our body contains about 150 g of potassium. A vast majority of this supply is located inside the body’s cells, mostly in the skeletal muscles and the heart, the red blood cells, the bones and the liver. Merely a fraction of the systemic potassium content is contained in the blood – and it is the potassium level in the blood that is subject to strict controlling so that this element doesn’t exceed the lower and upper thresholds of the physiological concentration.

Consuming potassium in the diet is the main source of this element, plenty of people also choose diet supplements containing potassium. The best form of potassium is potassium citrate.

The biggest sources of potassium in diet are:

– cocoa
– legumes
– seeds, kernels, nuts or almonds
– tomatoes
– avocado
– poppy seeds
– parsley leaves
– mineral waters

In most cases, the diet doesn’t provide the right amount of potassium, which arises from low consumption of vegetables and fruits. It is therefore not very likely to provide excessive amount of this valuable electrolyte with the diet. On top of that, the potassium level in the body is strictly regulated – its excess is removed through kidneys or the gastrointestinal tract. If those regulating mechanisms get disturbed, however – there’s too much potassium. What types of situations contribute to excess of this element in the body?

Potassium overdose – is it possible?

The daily potassium requirement is about 4700 mg, slightly more is needed by pregnant women. The potassium requirement gets bigger in the event of factors occurring that cause the body to lose it – in such case it is necessary to quickly replenish the potassium supply in the body. Such situations are mostly taking laxatives and diuretics, diarrhea and vomiting, intense sports or kidney diseases. The diet offers very limited choices here – a potassium supplementation will work much better. Is it possible to overdose potassium this way? Certainly not, if you use the supplement as intended and at the dosages recommended by the manufacturer. Even assuming that you get the right amount of potassium with your diet – the excess of this element provided through supplementation will get effectively removed from the body through excretion of urine.

What turns out to be a problem is kidney disorders that make it impossible to properly regulate the potassium level in blood, as well as states of intensified release of this element from the cells.

Here are the most common causes of high potassium level in the body:

– bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract, generated by inflammations or ulcers
– kidney failure
– rhabdomyolysis, which is degradation of muscle cells due to traumas or traffic accidents
– cancer treatment with the accompanying degradation of cancer cells
– dehydration
– taking drugs that hold the potassium in the body (i.e. certain diuretics or circulatory disorder drugs)
– excess of insulin synthesized by pancreas or taken for a diabetes treatment

Symptoms of excessive potassium in the body

The potassium level being too high – similarly to not enough potassium in the body – manifests itself mostly through impaired functioning of the heart. Because of that, the right potassium level in blood is necessary for proper conduction of neuromuscular impulses, and it also conditions the muscle spasms – the disorders of its level have a negative impact on the muscular conduction. Therefore, an excess of this electrolyte manifests itself through impaired functioning of the heart, arrhythmia, as well as weakened strength of muscles and muscle paralysis. On top of that, numbness and tingling can be felt in the limbs, as well as spasms. It is not uncommon for apathy and chronic fatigue to occur.

Diagnosing an excessive potassium level can be confirmed by a characteristic EKG imaging and increased potassium level in blood tests. The treatment of hyperkalaemia consists of eliminating the cause, i.e. laying off the drugs or insulin or curing the underlying disease. Interim treatment includes IV injection of calcium gluconate or glucose.

Joanna Łysak Author

Dietetyk i certyfikowany ekspert żywienia i ketozy. Zwolenniczka zdrowego stylu życia i zdrowej diety, propagatorka trendu clean label, praktyk diety ketogenicznej i postu przerywanego. W pracy i życiu prywatnym stawia na brak kompromisów – sięga wyłącznie po produkty i suplementy diety najwyższej jakości.

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