If you are watching your blood pressure, get plenty of potassium in your diet, since it can limit the harmful effects of salt on your blood pressure levels. However, having too much potassium in your blood, which is called hyperkalemia, also can be dangerous.
The recommended dietary allowance for potassium is 4,700 milligrams per day. Getting this much potassium from your diet will help keep your blood levels of potassium at normal levels. Healthy people don't usually get hyperkalemia from their diet alone; this usually happens only when you are taking supplements or if you have certain medical problems.
People with high potassium levels don't always experience symptoms. Doctors usually discover hyperkalemia during routine monitoring when they are treating patients for other medical conditions that can cause potassium levels to increase. Hyperkalemia can cause a slow or irregular pulse, weakness, tired muscles, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, numbness, tingling, paralysis or sudden collapse due to a slow or stopped heartbeat.
Medical conditions that can cause high potassium levels include hemolytic ulcers, severe burns, tumors, bleeding in the stomach or intestines, kidney failure, Type 1 diabetes, Addison's disease and alcohol or drug abuse. Many medications can also increase your potassium levels, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, herbal medicines, azole antifungal medications and heparins.
Should you develop hyperkalemia, you will need to avoid eating foods that are high in potassium during your treatment. For this condition to be resolved, any underlying causes need to be treated and your medication dosage may need to be adjusted to help lower your potassium levels. Treatment sometimes involves dialysis, calcium by IV, glucose and insulin by IV, diuretics, beta agonists or sodium bicarbonate. These medications either cause potassium to move from your blood to your cells or to move to your kidneys to be excreted.
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.