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Causes of high blood potassium levels

Updated February 21, 2017

High blood potassium levels, also referred to as hyperkalemia, are quite common in the United States. Mildly high blood potassium levels are typically well tolerated, however it still needs to be treated so that it does not become severe. High blood potassium levels can cause muscle fatigue, nausea, weakness, abnormal heart rhythms and paralysis. Severe high blood potassium levels can cause cardiac arrest and death. Potassium is a mineral necessary for the heart, muscles and nerves to function properly. High blood potassium levels can be caused by a number of things such as certain medications, adrenal gland diseases and kidney dysfunction.

Kidney Dysfunction

Kidney dysfunction can cause high blood potassium levels. Since potassium is excreted by the kidneys, potassium can build up when the kidneys do not function correctly, resulting in high blood potassium levels. Types of kidney dysfunction include chronic and acute kidney failure, transplant rejection, lupus nephritis and glomerulonephritis. Obstructive diseases that affect the urinary tract, such as urolithiasis, can also cause high blood potassium levels.

Medications

Certain medications can cause a high blood potassium level. When the kidneys are not functioning properly, these medications can cause blood potassium levels to rise even more. Some medications that can cause high blood potassium levels include potassium-sparing diuretics, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Severe Burns or Injury

Severe burns or injuries can cause high blood potassium levels. When a person suffers these types of traumas, red blood cells are destroyed. The destruction of these cells can cause high blood potassium levels.

Alcohol or Drug Abuse

Alcohol and drug abuse can cause high blood potassium levels. When a person abuses alcohol or drugs, their muscle fibres break down. When they break down, potassium is released into the bloodstream resulting in high blood potassium levels.

Adrenal Gland Diseases

Adrenal gland diseases can cause high blood potassium levels. Adrenal gland disease that may cause high blood potassium levels include Cushing's syndrome and Addison's disease. Cushing's syndrome produces too much cortisol and Addison's disease does not produce enough cortisol. With the production of cortisol not being high or low enough, high blood potassium levels can occur.

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About the Author

Rose Kitchen is a freelance medical writer pursuing a bachelor's degree in sociology and education. She has a nursing background and is going back to nursing school in September 2011 for her R.N. Kitchen holds a certificate in anatomy and physiology and English and is pursuing certificates in natural and alternative medicine, fitness and nutrition and sports nutrition.