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Potassium is required in large amounts on a daily basis to regulate fluid, make muscles contract and keep your heart beating steadily. Getting too much potassium, however, can be detrimental to your heart's ability to function properly. But having a high potassium concentration in your blood isn't necessarily related to how much you consume. Sometimes heart issues resulting from elevated potassium stem from an underlying medical ailment.
Hyperkalemia is a condition in which potassium levels become dangerously high and the kidneys aren't able to filter out the excess potassium quickly enough. It is possible that you took a large dose of the mineral and quickly spiked your potassium. Usually, however, hyperkalemia stems from poorly functioning kidneys, tissue damage from burns, severe abdominal bleeding, certain types of tumors or other chronic issue. Some medications, including diuretics and blood pressure medications, can also cause your potassium to skyrocket.
Effects on the Heart
Because one of potassium's biggest roles is regulating your heart rhythm, when your potassium runs high, your heart won't beat normally. Your heartbeat may become weak and erratic, minimizing normal blood flow throughout your body. When this happens, cells, tissues and vital organs don't get the oxygen they need to function. In severe cases, your heart can stop -- resulting in a heart attack -- and tissues start to die throughout your body. Ultimately, too much potassium in your system can be fatal.
Having a high potassium level doesn't typically generate too many symptoms, although you may notice some abnormalities. Initially you might be nauseated, and as potassium continues to rise you could notice that your pulse is incredibly weak or slow, reports MedlinePlus. If your heart rhythm continues to be abnormal, you may collapse or faint.
Your physician can order a serum potassium blood test to evaluate the mineral's concentration in your blood. Ideally your potassium should be between 3.7 to 5.3 milliequivalents per liter, shown as mEq/L, according to MedlinePlus. If your potassium is at or above the high end of the range, he may send you in for an echocardiogram to get a reading of your heart rhythm.
Depending on the severity of your high potassium level and whether or not you're experiencing heart rhythm abnormalities, you might have to be admitted into the hospital to prevent further complications. Emergency treatment could include being hooked up to intravenous fluids. Your physician can give you calcium through the IV drip to treat potassium's effects on the heart, in addition to glucose and insulin to help bring your potassium back down to a normal range.