Hyperkalemia describes an elevated level of potassium in the blood. In most cases, this causes non-specific symptoms such as malaise, palpitations and muscle weakness and can only be detected with a blood test. Acute hyperkalemia is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment due to the risk of arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.
Hyperkalemia can be caused by many conditions, but is usually the result of kidney diseases or the use of certain medications, particularly those that either encourage or inhibit urination. Less often, it is caused by a metabolic disease, usually of the adrenal glands. It can be caused by a sudden release of potassium stored in cells, such as with rhabdomyolysis, or by intake of foods high in potassium, such as sodium substitutes.
Even if hyperkalemia is detected in a blood test, this can often be a false positive caused by improper drawing of blood or improper handling of the blood sample.