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Hyperkalemia is a term that signifies an increase potassium levels in the blood. Normally, the amount of potassium in the blood is about 3.5 to 5 mmol (reference measurement unit) per liter of blood. Beyond 5 mmol per liter will be considered hyperkalemia. The rate is directly correlated with the occurrence of rare symptoms, but also potential complications: the higher the rate, the more they are likely to occur. Various causes can lead to these abnormally high rates, and in most cases, there is a decrease in potassium excretion in the urine during acute or chronic renal failure. Hyperkalemia is also commonly found in people treated with certain drugs such as drugs used to fight against hypertension, mainly diuretics. It can also be secondary to an excessive intake of potassium prescribed under hypokalemia. Note that hyperkalemia may finally be due to a sampling error, when the latter is "hemolyzed".


Generally, hyperkalemia, although important, is not responsible for any symptom. At worst, in rare cases, there may be tingling or numbness in the fingers, feet or around the mouth, and sometimes muscle weakness. Clinical signs may occur when certain complications are present in this case cardiac arrhythmias. These heart problems underline the seriousness of hyperkalemia, manifested by palpitations, discomfort, and even cardiac arrest.


Hyperkalemia is generally not liable for any clinical signs; diagnosis is usually made by accident during a blood test. In other cases, it is a recording of heart rate, or electrocardiogram (ECG), that will highlight some suggestive electrical signs, and a blood test will confirm the suspicion of hyperkalemia. In all cases of significant hyperkalemia, an ECG is essential.


There are several treatments for hyperkalemia, which vary depending on the severity of the disease. Some molecules such as sodium polystyrene sulfonate or diuretics are used in non-emergency situations and help to reduce the amount of potassium in the blood. When hyperkalemia is severe or accompanied by an alarming heart rate, a doctor may also prescribe sodium bicarbonate, molecules containing calcium or insulin. In some cases, a machine allowing the filtering of blood will be used to quickly remove excess potassium, a technique called hemodialysis.


Prevention of hyperkalemia, mainly encountered in patients with renal failure, can be assured through a limited intake of potassium and an avoidance of medications that increase potassium retention by the kidneys.

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