Role of Potassium
Potassium is an electrolyte found in our body that has many significant functions. According to the American Heart Association, it keeps a normal water balance between cells and body fluids. It also aids nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Potassium plays a key role in keeping the heart beating at a normal rhythm. Some examples of potassium-rich foods include bananas, grapefruit, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, and honeydew. The USDA recommends ingesting 4,7000 mg of potassium each day.
Hyperkalemia is defined as an excessive buildup of potassium in they body. Healthy people should not worry about consuming too much potassium because their kidneys can filter out the excess. According to the National Institutes of Health, hyperkalemia occurs when the kidneys are not functioning properly and are unable to filter potassium from the blood. Hemolytic anemia, severe burns, tumors, and intestinal bleeding can also cause hyperkalemia. This is due to metabolic acidosis, where potassium is transported from the inside of cells to the fluid outside of cells. Often, there are no symptoms involved with hyperkalemia, but you may experience nausea; a slow, weak, or irregular pulse; or fainting.
Effect on the Heart
Because potassium plays such an important role in maintaining a normal heart rhythm, hyperkalemia can cause dangerous, irregular heart rhythms. According to the National Institutes of Health, hyperkalemia may cause a heart block, bradycardia (slow heart rate), ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation may be potentially fatal because it can lead to cardiac arrest. Some symptoms of ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation are an abnormally fast heart rate, dizziness, palpitations, angina (chest pain), and shortness of breath. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call EMS.
According to the National Institutes of Health, intravenous calcium is given to individuals who have extreme hyperkalemia in order to counterbalance the effects of potassium. Also, glucose or insulin may be given to help lower potassium levels. If hyperkalemia is a result of the kidneys not working properly, dialysis may be needed. Additional treatments may include changes in medication or changes in your diet.