Hyperkalemia, or excess potassium in the blood, is a potentially fatal medical condition. Normal blood potassium levels range from 3.6 to 4.8 mEq/L. Blood potassium levels above 6.0 mEq/L are dangerous and merit immediate medical attention, according to MayoClinic.com. Hyperkalemia usually results from underlying renal disease that inhibits the kidneys' ability to remove excess potassium from the body, but excessive potassium intake, either from food or supplements, can also cause dangerously high blood potassium levels. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends that healthy adults consume 2,000 mg of potassium per day.
Fatigue, Weakness and Stomach Upset
General symptoms of dangerously high blood potassium levels include fatigue, weakness, nausea and vomiting. While none of these symptoms is exclusive to hyperkalemia, if you have these symptoms and fall into a group that is at high risk for hyperkalemia, you should seek immediate medical attention. High risk groups include people who have recently undergone surgery or suffered burn or crush injuries, type 1 diabetics, and those with Addison's disease, renal disease, hemolytic conditions and rhabdomyolysis. If you don't fall into a high risk group, and you have been taking prescribed potassium because of low potassium levels, you should be aware that potassium supplementation side effects can mimic the general symptoms of hyperkalemia. The University of Maryland Medical Center advises contacting your doctor if your symptoms progress beyond the general symptoms to severe stomach pain, irregular heartbeat or chest pain.
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Potassium plays a major role in regulating muscle function and homeostasis, or balancing the body's chemical and electrical impulses. When blood potassium levels are too high, it can inhibit muscle regulation, including heartbeat. This can lead to an irregular heartbeat, reduced or absent pulse, muscle weakness and difficulty breathing. Additional symptoms can include tingling and numbness in the extremities and paralysis.
Exams and Tests
If your physician suspects you may be suffering from hyperkalemia, he can run tests both to measure the amount of potassium in your bloodstream and to determine whether the condition has affected your heart. An electrocardiogram can reveal heart blockages and arrhythmias associated with hyperkalemia, and a blood test will show high serum blood potassium levels, according to the National Institutes of Health.