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Hyperkalemia (High Potassium)

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KEY POINTS

  • Hyperkalemia means that the amount of potassium in the blood is higher than normal. Potassium is one of several minerals in the blood called electrolytes. Electrolytes help control the amount of fluid in the body and the way muscles, nerves, and other cells work.
  • Your child’s treatment will depend on how high the potassium level is and the cause. Your child may need IV fluids and medicines to help get rid of some of the extra potassium. Your child may need to stay in the hospital.
  • Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Too much potassium can cause serious and life-threatening problems, so it’s important to work with your provider to control your child’s potassium and get all check-ups and lab tests.

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What is hyperkalemia?

Hyperkalemia means that the amount of potassium in the blood is higher than normal. Potassium is one of several minerals in the blood called electrolytes. Electrolytes help control the amount of fluid in the body and the way muscles, nerves, and other cells work.

Your child needs the right balance of water, potassium, and other electrolytes in the body to stay healthy. Too much potassium in the blood can cause serious problems such as muscle weakness or a life-threatening heart rhythm. The balance of electrolytes in your child’s body can be affected by diet, medicine, how much water your child drinks, or problems with your child’s lungs, kidneys, or other organs.

Your child gets potassium from food such as some fruits, vegetables, meats, and nuts.

What is the cause?

Your child’s potassium level may be high if your child has:

  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • A hormone imbalance such as happens with Addison’s disease
  • A serious injury or infection

Your child may have high levels if your child’s diet is very high in potassium-rich foods or your child takes certain medicines.

What are the symptoms?

When your child’s potassium level is high, your child may not have symptoms. When it does cause symptoms, the most common are:

  • Weak muscles
  • Feeling like your child’s heart is skipping beats
  • Dizziness

If your child’s potassium gets too high, it can affect your child’s heart’s rhythm. Your child may feel lightheaded or faint. A very high level can cause your child’s heart to stop beating.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • An ECG (also called an EKG or electrocardiogram) to measure and record your child’s heartbeat

How is it treated?

Your child’s treatment will depend on how high the potassium level is and the cause.

  • If caused by a medical problem such as kidney failure, treating the medical problem may lower your child’s potassium level.
  • If your child’s potassium level is very high, your child may need to stay in the hospital for treatment.
    • Your child may have an IV for fluids and medicines.
    • Your child may have dialysis for kidney failure.
  • Your child’s provider may change some of your child’s regular medicines.
  • Your child may have more blood tests to check the potassium level.

How should I take care of my child?

Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Too much or too little potassium can cause serious and life-threatening problems. Work with your child’s provider to control your child’s potassium. Keep all appointments for check-ups and lab tests.

Tell all healthcare providers who treat your child about all the prescription medicines, nonprescription medicines, supplements, natural remedies, and vitamins that your child takes.

Your child may need to limit certain foods that are rich sources of potassium including:

  • Fruits such as melons, bananas, oranges, pears, papayas, mangoes, kiwis, prunes, and raisins
  • Yogurt, cow’s milk, and soy milk
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Vegetables such as avocados, pumpkin, broccoli, lima beans, peas, tomatoes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, potatoes, and potatoes with skin
  • Red meat, soy products, and fish such as cod, salmon, and sardines

Talk to your child’s healthcare provider or a dietitian if you need help planning a low-potassium diet.

Ask your child’s healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will get your child’s test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-07-30
Last reviewed: 2019-07-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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