Hyperkalemia is a condition in which you have high potassium levels in your blood. You may not have any symptoms, or they may be easy to dismiss. Severe symptoms may cause muscle weakness or affect your heart. Treatment includes a low-potassium diet, medications that lower your potassium levels and, in severe cases, dialysis.
Hyperkalemia is a condition in which the potassium levels in your blood get too high.
Potassium is a positively charged electrolyte. Electrolytes are minerals that have a natural positive or negative charge when they dissolve in water or other body fluids, such as blood. It helps carry an electric charge through your body, which helps your body function. Potassium helps:
You get potassium through the foods and drinks you consume. Normally, your kidneys remove extra potassium, which leaves your body through your urine (pee). But if you have too much potassium in your body, your kidneys may not be able to remove all of it, and it can build up in your blood. Too much potassium in your blood can damage your heart, make you feel palpitations and even cause a heart attack. You can’t always tell when your potassium levels are high.
A typical potassium level for adults is between 3.5 and 5.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Hyperkalemia occurs when potassium levels go above 5.5 mmol/L. A potassium level above 6.5 mmol/L can cause heart problems that require immediate medical attention.
In the general U.S. population, hyperkalemia is rare. Medical experts estimate 2% to 3% of people have high potassium levels. However, you’re up to three times more likely to have hyperkalemia if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD). Over half of those who have CKD but don’t need dialysis eventually develop high potassium levels.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
If you have mild hyperkalemia, you may not have any signs, or your signs might be easy to dismiss. Symptoms often come and go or may gradually develop over weeks or months. Mild hyperkalemia signs may include:
Dangerously high potassium levels affect your heart and cause sudden, life-threatening problems. Severe hyperkalemia symptoms may include:
The most common cause of hyperkalemia is kidney disease. Kidney disease damages your kidneys, which means they don’t filter wastes (including excess potassium) from your blood as well as they should.
In addition to kidney disease, these factors also contribute to hyperkalemia:
No, hyperkalemia isn’t contagious. You can’t spread hyperkalemia to another person.
In very rare cases, genetic disorders may cause high potassium levels. These include:
Anyone of any age can get hyperkalemia, including children. You may be at a higher risk of hyperkalemia if you have:
Severe hyperkalemia can come on suddenly. It can cause life-threatening changes to your heart that cause a heart attack. Without treatment, even mild hyperkalemia can damage your heart over time.
Most people don’t have hyperkalemia symptoms, so you might not know you have high potassium levels until a healthcare provider orders a blood test. A serum potassium test is a type of blood test that measures your potassium levels.
A provider may also order an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG shows changes in your heart rhythm. Tall (peaked) T waves are the earliest signs of hyperkalemia in an EKG. T waves show your heart at rest or recovering after beating.
Hyperkalemia treatment varies according to your potassium levels. Treatment options may include:
The best way to prevent hyperkalemia is to be aware of your kidney health and to limit the amount of potassium you put in your body. If you’re at risk of hyperkalemia, talk to a healthcare provider. They may refer you to a nephrologist. A nephrologist is a doctor who specializes in conditions that affect your kidneys.
Changes to your diet and taking medications often resolve mild cases of hyperkalemia. With the proper care, most people don’t have long-term complications due to high potassium levels. However, hyperkalemia increases your chances of developing other serious medical conditions, including heart attack and death. A healthcare provider may order regular blood tests to ensure your potassium levels stay in a healthy range.
A healthcare provider will work with you to develop a treatment plan. Your treatment plan may include making changes to your diet and taking medicines as prescribed by a healthcare provider.
If you have hyperkalemia or are at risk of developing it, adopting a low-potassium diet is the best way to protect your health. You may need to cut back on or completely stop eating certain high-potassium foods, including:
If a healthcare provider diagnoses you with hyperkalemia, schedule regular follow-up appointments for blood testing. It’s also a good idea to talk to a provider if you have mild hyperkalemia symptoms, including:
Go to the emergency room as quickly as possible if you have hyperkalemia and develop serious symptoms, including:
Hyperkalemia is when the potassium levels in your blood are too high.
Hypokalemia is when the potassium levels in your blood are too low.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hyperkalemia is when you have too much potassium in your blood. It’s not a common condition found in most people. But it’s very common if you have kidney disease or kidney failure.
Hyperkalemia rarely causes symptoms, so it can be surprising if a blood test shows high potassium levels. A low-potassium diet can protect your health, and a healthcare provider can determine how much potassium you need. They’ll work with you to help create a meal plan to ensure you get the right amount of potassium in your diet and prescribe or change your medications.
You may feel anxious or overwhelmed during treatment, especially if you need dialysis. These feelings are normal. Be open with your healthcare providers about any concerns or questions you have. They’re here to answer your questions and provide support and advice.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/11/2023.
Learn more about our editorial process.