High Potassium Side-effects
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Potassium is a positively charged electrolyte in the body responsible for various processes. The normal level of potassium in the body is 3.5 to 5.0 mEq/L. Potassium functions in the body in regulating the nerve impulse transmission in the nervous system. It is also important in the regulation of the action potential in the heart for a normal heart contraction. This seems to be one of the most important functions of potassium in the body because a decline or elevation in potassium levels significantly affects the heart’s action. Other functions in the body of potassium are regulating the contraction of the skeletal muscles, maintenance of fluid and electrolyte levels and stabilization of osmosis in the intracellular and extracellular space.
The presence of high potassium in the body is termed as hyperkalemia. Any elevation in the level of potassium significantly affects its functioning. Side-effects of potassium result from the inability of potassium to normally perform its functions. The side effects zone of hyperkalemia is focused on the cardiac and skeletal muscles.
Presence of hyperkalemia requires an emergency medical treatment because of life-threatening affectation of the heart contractility. Reasons for a high potassium levels include kidney diseases because it leads to the inability of the kidneys to regulate and excrete excess potassium. Hypoaldosteronism also causes a drop in sodium levels and subsequently a rise in the potassium levels. Conditions that increase the release of potassium in the cells into the blood may also cause high potassium levels. These include presence of burns, tumors, infection, metabolic acidosis, massive blood transfusions and trauma. Finally, medications may also play a role in the increase of potassium as in the case of overdose of potassium salts, digoxin, potassium-sparing diuretics and certain anti-hypertensive drugs.
Side-effects of high potassium include:
- Tachycardia leading to cardiac arrhythmias
Because of high level of potassium, the action potentials in the heart are increased leading to dysfunctional contraction. The intake of pseudoephedrine along with digitalis also mimics this occurrence and lead to pseudoephedrine side-effects of arrhythmias. Severe cardiac arrhythmias may lead to cardiac arrest.
Hyperkalemia also causes the blood pressure to decrease because of low blood sodium levels that regulate the blood pressure.
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
These gastrointestinal side-effects are the body’s reaction to eliminate excess potassium levels in the body.
- ECG changes
Hyperkalemia also leads to changes in the normal ECG pattern. It specifically causes peak T wave, flat P wave and widened QRS complex.
- Muscle cramps, weakness or flaccid paralysis
The presence of high potassium also affects the nerve conduction in muscles leading to weakness.
- Paresthesia or tingling sensations
The nerve impulse transmission is also affected leading to occurrence of paresthesias.
Dr.Amarendra is blogger cum freelance health writer. He blogs at side effects.