High potassium levels


Hyperkalemia is higher-than-normal levels of potassium in the blood.

Alternative Names

Hyperkalemia; Potassium - high


The kidneys normally remove excess potassium from the body. High potassium levels are more likely to occur when the kidneys are not working properly and are less able to get rid of potassium.

If your kidneys are not working well enough, taking extra potassium (for example from using salt substitutes that contain potassium or taking potassium supplements prescribed by your health care provider) could lead to problems.

Certain medicines may cause potassium levels to build up because of their effect on the kidneys, including water pills (diuretics) and blood pressure medicines.

Any time potassium is released from the cells, it may build up in body fluids, including the bloodstream. Acidosis leads to the movement of potassium from inside the cells to the fluid outside the cells. Such injury includes:

Addison's disease is a disorder that causes an increase in total potassium.


There are often no symptoms with high levels of potassium. Symptoms that may occur include:

Exams and Tests

An ECG may show dangerous and abnormal rhythms such as:

Your doctor should check your serum potassium and do kidney blood tests on a regular basis if you:


You will need emergency treatment if your potassium level is very high, or if you have danger signs, such as changes in an ECG.

Emergency treatment may include:

Changes in your diet can help both prevent and treat high potassium levels. You may be asked to:

Your doctor may make the following changes to your medicines:

It is important to follow your health care provider's directions when taking your medicines:


Seifter JL. Potassium disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer, AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 119.

Review Date: 11/16/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.