Potassium is a major nutrient in blood that is important for normal functioning of nerve and muscle cells. A Nurse should always understand the importance of normal values as well as the signs and symptoms related to their patient condition so that she will be able to report to the doctor immediately if there are any variations with the client.

Hyperkalemia is a medical condition that is characterized by high potassium levels in the blood. Potassium is essential for the nerve and muscle cells to function properly and it is found within the cells. Only small amount of potassium is found in the blood stream. The kidneys play an important role in maintaining the potassium levels and hence if you have underlying kidney disease the levels might increase causing hyperkalemia.

Signs and symptoms of hyperkalemia:

In few instances hyperkalemia will not show any symptoms but common signs and symptoms include,

  • Irregular heart beat or tachycardia
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling weak
  • Sensation of tingling, numbness, etc.
  • Breathing problem
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Paralysis
Causes of hyperkalemia:
  • An underlying kidney problem or disease
  • Increased amount of acid in the blood which is sometimes seen in diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Trauma resulting from injuries or burns
  • Addison’s disease
  • Intake of foods that are rich in potassium such as bananas, oranges, tomatoes, salt and other potassium supplements.
  • Intake of certain medications such as anti-hypertensive and non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs.
Treatment guidelines and treating hyperkalemia:

The mode of treatment differs for each person and it depends on the underlying cause, severity and changes in the ECG of a person. The general health of a person must be kept in mind while treating. Mild form of hyperkalemia is treated with medications when there is no change in the ECG, acidosis and kidney dysfunction. But when it is severe, with abnormal ECG and leads to fatal condition the patient requires hospitalization in intensive care unit with continuous heart rhythm observation.

The treating mode includes,

  • Intake of low potassium diet
  • Withdrawing medications that cause to increase potassium levels
  • Administering glucose and insulin intravenously as it will move the wandering potassium back in to cells.
  • Administration of calcium intravenously to protect heart from the ill effects of hyperkalemia.
  • Administration of sodium bicarbonate intravenously to prevent acidosis and it also promotes the potassium present in extracellular space back into the cells.
  • Administering diuretics which aid the kidney to excrete the additional potassium present in the body. Only certain potassium sparing drugs limit the kidney excretion.
  • Drugs such as albuterol and epinephrine promote driving back potassium into the cells.
  • Drugs such as cation-exchange resins aids in the excretion of potassium through gastrointestinal tract.
  • If kidney failure is present then dialysis is the only option.


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