High potassium can lead to changes in the electrical conduction of the heart. High potassium may be a result of various health conditions and medications. If left untreated, patients may experience changes in heart rhythm that can be life-threatening. In some instances, changes in heart rhythm can result in a myocardial infarction, otherwise known as a heart attack.
According to MayoClinic.com, a healthy adult's potassium level should be between 3.6 to 4.8 mEq/L. Hyperkalemia is the term given to patients who have potassium levels above the specified normal range. If left untreated, hyperkalemia can have severe consequences on the electrical conduction activity of the heart. In some cases, medications may be used to lower the amount of potassium found in the bloodstream. These medications typically work by redistributing the potassium or preventing absorption from dietary sources.
Causes of High Potassium
Many factors can contribute to the development of hyperkalemia in patients. Because the kidneys are responsible for regulating the elimination of electrolytes, renal disease can result in high potassium. Conditions such as diabetes can precipitate a shift of water and potassium from inside cells back into the bloodstream resulting in high potassium. Certain health conditions and medications can also increase the risk of developing high potassium.
Arrythmia occurs when the heart beats at an abnormal rate. The change in rate and rhythm is often attributed to changes within the electrical conductivity of the heart. Many factors can alter the electrical activity of the heart, including medications, injury, disease and electrolyte disturbances. Arrythmias may be life threatening and lead to severe complications, including sudden death.
Potassium and Arrythmia
Muscle cells within the heart contain potassium channels that are involved in relaying the electrical signals that regulate rate and rhythm. As these channels open, potassium moves through the channels, creating lower concentrations. High potassium levels within the bloodstream can interfere with this process and lead to conduction abnormalities. Often, patients with hyperkalemia experience changes in their ECG, or electro-cardiogram, a monitoring tool used to view the electrical activity of the heart.
Arrythmias can cause the heart to beat so rapidly that it doesn’t have time to properly fill with blood. As a result, the heart is inefficient at pumping blood to other organs within the body, including itself. In addition, an increase in rate also increases the oxygen requirements of heart muscle cells. As the heart becomes deprived of blood flow and oxygen, patients may potentially suffer a heart attack. Patients should contact heir physician with concerns regarding potassium levels or heart disorders.
- MayoClinic.com: Hyperkalemia (High Potassium)
- “Electrocardiographic Manifestations of Hyperkalemia”; "American Journal of Emergency Medicine"; Dr. Amal Mattu et al; 2003
- “Cardiac Ion Channels"; "New England Journal of Medicine"; Arnold Katz; 1993