Your body relies on a series of electrical reactions in order to maintain normal functions. These reactions give you energy that allows your heart to beat and your blood to flow. Potassium is an electrolyte associated with maintaining balance in the body. Just as potassium is required to maintain balance, the amount of potassium in your body must stay in balance. Excess amounts of potassium can have negative effects.
Your normal potassium levels should be anywhere from 3.6 to 4.8 millequivalents per liter, according to the MayoClinic.com. High potassium levels can be measured by a blood test--if your blood potassium level exceeds 6.0 mEq/L, then you are considered to be at a high level and may experience adverse effects.
A number of symptoms, both minor and severe, are associated with high potassium levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. Minor symptoms include muscle fatigue, weakness and stomach upset. Severe instances of high potassium can result in paralysis and arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms. Your pulse also may be slowed or faint, according to MedlinePlus, a publication of the National Institutes of Health.
Abnormally high potassium levels are often caused by kidney disorders, according to MedlinePlus. Because the kidneys are responsible for filtering potassium in the blood, conditions such as acute kidney failure, chronic kidney failure, obstructive uropathy and glomerulonephritis all can lead to hyperkalemia. A condition known as Addison's disease also causes high potassium levels. Injury to the body can result in high potassium--burns, tumors, surgery and blood-related conditions can all increase your potassium levels.
Because excess potassium contributes to changes in heart rhythm, high potassium can be a life-threatening condition. Your physician may prescribe a diuretic, which can help the body to secrete excess potassium, according to the Merck Manual on Health & Aging. You will be advised to follow a low potassium diet and eliminate salt substitutes from your diet. If you are taking medications that affect potassium levels, your physician will likely recommend a substitute.
In most instances, high potassium levels are detected when you begin to experience adverse symptoms, such as an irregular heartbeat. However, if you suspect your potassium levels are excessively high, seek medical treatment immediately. Because high potassium levels also can cause loss of consciousness, do not drive yourself to the hospital--call 911 if you are experiencing high potassium symptoms.