Learn more about high potassium

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What is high potassium, or hyperkalemia?

Everyone needs potassium to survive. Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte. It helps your muscles work, including the muscles that control your heartbeat and breathing. Potassium comes from the food you eat.

Your body uses the potassium it needs. The extra potassium that your body does not need is removed from your blood by your kidneys. When you have kidney disease, your kidneys cannot remove extra potassium in the right way, and too much potassium can stay in your blood.

When you have too much potassium in your blood, it is called high potassium, or hyperkalemia. Having too much potassium in your blood can be dangerous. High potassium can even cause a heart attack or death! Unfortunately, many people do not feel symptoms of high potassium until it’s too late and their heart health worsens.

Manage your potassium levels with diet and treatment.

Frequently asked questions about hyperkalemia
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What causes high potassium?

What are the symptoms of high potassium?

What are the complications of high potassium?

What are the tests for high potassium?

What are the treatments for high potassium?

Eating for high potassium

If you learn that you have high potassium, your doctor might suggest that you change your diet to take in less potassium.

Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how much potassium you should have and how you can control how much potassium you eat. Your dietitian can recommend foods that are low in potassium that you can eat instead of foods that are high in potassium.

Follow these tips to keep your potassium at the right level:

  • Avoid salt substitutes because they are usually high in potassium.
  • Do not forget about drinks. Many fruit juices, like orange and tomato, have high potassium. Potassium can also be found in other drinks including coconut water.
  • Pay attention to serving sizes. Use measuring cups and measuring spoons to make sure you know how many servings you are eating or drinking. Remember that if you eat two servings of a food with potassium, you are eating twice as much potassium!

To manage your potassium intake, you need to know how much potassium is in your food and drinks.

  • Packaged foods must have nutrition labels, but potassium is not always listed on the label. If you do not see potassium listed on the nutrition label, check the list of ingredients on the package. If the word potassium or an abbreviation for potassium (K, KCl or K+) is listed, there is potassium in the food.
  • Starting in July 2020, potassium values will be listed on food nutrition labels. You can read more about these changes here.
  • Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and some dairy products do not have nutrition labels. Ask your dietitian for a list of high-potassium foods and lower potassium options.

Plan ahead if you know you will be eating a meal that is high in potassium. For example, if you are going out for dinner and you know your meal will be higher in potassium, or you know that it will be hard to measure how much potassium is in your meal, plan to eat meals that are low in potassium for breakfast and lunch.

When eating out, choose a restaurant that will make changes or substitutions in their dishes. Bring a list of low potassium foods with you that the restaurant can substitute out for other items. Use this sample potassium log to start tracking how much potassium you eat at each meal.

Foods HIGH in potassium include:

Bananas
Potatoes
Beans
Fish
Cheese
Poultry
Nuts

Foods LOW in potassium include:

Some Fruits
Some Vegetables
Bread
Rice
Pasta

WATCH OUR WEBINAR: Nutrition for CKD

If you are on dialysis or if you have a loved one who is, you know how difficult it can be to find foods that will work with the strict diet that dialysis requires. Watch our webinar and understand the differences between phosphorus and potassium and learn appropriate food sources of each.

How to talk to your doctor about high potassium

You might find it hard to manage high potassium on your own. The good news is that your health care team can help. Use these tips to start a conversation:

Be honest and do not be afraid to start the conversation. If you are having problems managing your high potassium, tell your healthcare team. Many people struggle with their diet and medicines. Your healthcare team will have lots of experience to help you come up with a plan.

Talk about any symptoms you are feeling. Muscle pains, feeling tired, and other symptoms could be caused by high potassium but there could be other causes.

Ask to see a dietitian. If you are a dialysis patient, you may already have a dietitian you can talk to. If you have kidney disease and are not yet on dialysis, many health insurance plans (including Medicare) will cover at least a few sessions with a dietitian.

Ask if there is a medicine that could help. Medicines called potassium binders might be able to help you if diet is not enough. Ask your healthcare team if potassium binders could be an option for you.