Potassium is one of the several minerals which are essential to the health and optimal function of the body. It contributes to strong healthy muscles as well as keeping the heart in a good state. However, the amounts of potassium consumed and the levels in the body need to be the right balance because too much potassium in the body is harmful. In fact, for those with some conditions like kidney disease, too much potassium in the body is dangerous. This is a problem with older persons, therefore, we shall look at what causes high potassium levels in the elderly.
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Having too much potassium in the body leads to a condition called hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia occurs when the potassium levels in the blood go beyond the normal range of 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter of blood. The elderly are particularly prone to high potassium levels and should ensure that they keep the levels of potassium in their body within the right range to stay healthy and prevent the risks.
High potassium levels affects the muscles leading to muscles fatigue and weakness of the muscles which can result in paralysis. It can also cause other dangerous problems for the body such as fluctuation of heart rhythm which can cause a condition called ventricular fibrillation- this condition causes the lower chambers of the heart to flutter rapidly instead of pumping blood as it should, and other heart problems which can be deadly.
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Causes of Hyperkalemia
The common cause of hyperkalemia is kidney disease or interference with kidney function. The kidney works to ensure that there is a right potassium balance in the body by filtering out excess potassium from the blood, therefore, in a case where the kidney does not work properly, the right balance will not be maintained.
The hormone aldosterone monitors the levels of potassium in the blood and alerts the kidney to any irregularities- where the production of the hormone is interfered with such as Addison’s disease which leads to a decrease in the levels of the hormone. Reduced hormones means that the kidney will not regulate minerals properly and allow a buildup of potassium in the body.
Some medications can lead to high potassium levels by interrupting the kidney’s potassium filtration and secretion process. Some diuretics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines interfere with the kidney’s ability to filter out excess potassium from the blood.
Excess Potassium in Diet
The other way of having high levels of potassium is by eating a lot of potassium rich foods such that the body has a high concentration of the mineral. Foods like prunes, raisins, high-potassium yogurt, tomatoes and bananas are great to eat because they are nutritious and soft but have high in potassium content.
Salt substitutes are often used for lowering blood sodium levels but also increase potassium levels in the blood. The higher concentration of potassium may not be a problem for many people but can be a problem for those who already have a potassium filtration problem in the kidneys such that not enough is excreted.
Potassium supplements is often prescribed to the elderly to help correct low levels of potassium and this can lead to elevated levels of the mineral in the body. However, as much as it is helpful, taking potassium supplements can lead to high levels of potassium in the blood.
Symptoms of Hyperkalemia
There are several indicators that can help you and doctors determine if you are suffering from high levels of potassium in the blood. We have already mentioned signs like irregular heart beat or rhythm but there are more signs which point to the problem of hyperkalemia.
The following are the common symptoms of hyperkalemia:
- Irregular heart beat or rhythm, also called arrhythmia, which can be life threatening. High potassium levels in the blood affects how the heart works.
- Apart from arrhythmia, high potassium levels causes the heart rate to slow down.
- You will have a general feeling of weakness.
- Apart from general weakness, muscle fatigue is a common occurrence in those who are suffering from a high concentration of potassium in the blood.
- In extreme cases, the muscle weakness can result in paralysis.
- Potassium elevation in the blood will also lead to nausea and vomiting in some cases.
Control and Treatment of Hyperkalemia
If you suspect that you have a problem with high potassium levels, you should consult your doctor for a diagnosis and advice if you are proven to have elevated levels of the mineral.
Get on a Low-Potassium Diet
If you are found to have high potassium levels, you will have to look at your diet and ensure that you stick to a low potassium diet by avoiding the consumption of too many foods with a high potassium content. Get information on the right diet for you and avoid eating too many bananas, potassium yoghurt, milk etc. which can cause hyperkalemia related problems.
Avoid Potassium High Salt Substitutes
Salt substitutes are often prescribed for elderly people and some which have been found to be bad for people with kidney problems because they interfere with minerals filtration and secretion. Slat substitutes that are high in potassium should be avoided.
Keep Away From Herbal Remedies and Supplements
Most herbal remedies and supplements are made from ingredients which can lead to a rise in blood potassium levels. In fact, people who are already dealing with kidney problems should not take herbal remedies or supplements. You should consult your doctor before you take any herbal products.
There are water pills or potassium binders which you can take to help flush out the extra potassium in the blood if your kidneys are not up to the task for one reason or another. The potassium flushing medicines are:
- Diuretics or water pills will help you excrete excess potassium from the body by triggering the kidneys to produce more urine thus flushing out the excess mineral in the urine.
- The other potassium flushing medicines are called water binders, which is a powder. The binders are mixed in a small quantity of water and is then consumed with food. They are called binders because once swallowed, the powder binds to the excess potassium in the gut and excretes it.
Now you have the answer to “What causes high potassium levels in the elderly?”. The good news is that there are remedies to the problem of elevated potassium levels in the elderly which you can adapt to control and treat the problem.
The best way to dealing with and avoiding the problem is to prevent it in the first place- mind your diet, medications and any supplements you take to ensure that they do not cause an elevation of potassium in the body. Get more insights here: