Hyperkalemia is a condition that occurs when the potassium level in your blood rises to a level above normal. Typically, the potassium level is between about 3.5 and 5 mEq/L. If the potassium is between 5.1 and 6 mEq/L, then this is considered mild hyperkalemia.
Severe hyperkalemia occurs when the potassium level reaches above 7. High potassium levels are often caused by specific diseases, like kidney disease. The kidneys are the organs in the body that filter all of the wastes from the blood and transport urine to the bladder. About 120 to 150 quarts of blood move through the kidneys, and one to two quarts of urine are produced. If the kidneys become damaged, they cannot filter wastes as well as they should. Potassium then builds up in the body.
Adrenal gland diseases, like Addison's disease, may be linked to hyperkalemia as well as kidney disease. Healthy adrenal glands produce a hormone called aldosterone. This chemical helps the kidneys hold sodium and excrete potassium. Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal glands are damaged, and they cannot produce as much aldosterone as they should. The body then retains more potassium than normal and hyperkalemia develops.
Hyperkalemia cannot be directly prevented, since the condition develops as a sign of a more serious ailment. If blood tests show that you have elevated potassium levels in the blood, then it is wise to speak to your physician about undergoing other tests that can help to determine the cause of the hyperkalemia.
For example, a complete urinalysis may need to be completed to find out if there is a reduced level of urea and potassium in your urine and an increase in protein. Biopsies also may need to be completed to check the kidney tissues for damage.
If Addison's disease is suspected, then the blood may be tested for specific signs of antibodies that are released by the immune system. Imaging tests as well as testing that stimulates the adrenal glands may be used to diagnose Addison's disease too.
If you have kidney disease, then you may need to go through dialysis to remove contaminants from the blood. This can reduce the amount of potassium in your body. If you have Addison's disease, then you may need to take oral medications that replace the hormones that are not produced by your adrenal gland.
While medicine is an important part of your treatment to keep hyperkalemia controlled, you should also reduce your intake of potassium. This is one way that you can control the potassium levels in your blood and actively work to keep yourself healthy.
You should avoid foods that are high in potassium. These foods include avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, mushrooms, and apricots. You should instead eat an abundance of low potassium foods like apples, blackberries, corn, lettuce, cranberries, rice, peas, and pineapples. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water. Water helps the body create more urine, and this can help to flush some of the potassium out of the body.