The human body requires sodium and potassium to maintain normal functions. Potassium controls muscle contractions and nerve impulse transmission, while sodium controls the amount of water in the body and generates electrical impulses that control major body functions. Increased levels of these electrolytes require treatment to prevent serious complications and restore levels to normal.
Causes of high potassium levels include chronic kidney disease, acute kidney failure, Addison’s disease, heavy drug or alcohol use, type 1 diabetes, excessive intake of potassium supplements, destruction of red blood cells and the use of ACE inhibitors, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals reports that causes of high sodium levels in the blood include diarrhea, vomiting, intrinsic renal disease, burns, excessive sweating, diabetes insipidus, adrenal tumors and the use of loop diuretic drugs.
The basic metabolic panel blood test identifies high levels of potassium and sodium in the blood. This blood test also checks the levels of glucose, calcium, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, carbon dioxide and chloride in the blood. The National Institutes of Health reports that a normal level of sodium in the blood ranges from 135 to 145 mEq/L (milliequivalent per liter), while a normal potassium level ranges from 3.7 to 5.2 mEq/L.
Complications associated with high potassium levels include weakness, fatigue, nausea, slow or weak pulse, irregular heartbeat and muscle spasms. Complications associated with high sodium levels include confusion, brain cell shrinkage, seizures and coma. High sodium levels may also cause cerebrovascular damage.
Doctors treat high potassium levels with the administration of calcium gluconate or calcium chloride. Insulin also reduces blood potassium levels by moving potassium out of the cells. Doctors treat high sodium levels by restoring fluid levels to normal. In people without digestive problems, oral rehydration solutions restore electrolyte levels to safe ranges. In those who cannot drink oral solutions due to vomiting or mental dysfunction, medical professionals administer fluids intravenously.
Because some medications increase the risk for high potassium levels, regular monitoring reduces the risk of a severe increase in potassium. Reduced intake of foods high in potassium also reduces the risk of developing high potassium levels in the blood. Limit your intake of high-potassium foods such as chocolate, milk, hard cheeses, potatoes and tomatoes. Prevent high sodium levels by avoiding salty foods and replacing lost fluids during hot weather or during bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. Follow your doctor’s instructions for reducing sodium intake if you have kidney disease or renal failure.