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HIGH POTASSIUM AND YOU 

Find out why it is important to control your potassium levels, whether you are at risk of high potassium and what you can do about it

HIGH POTASSIUM AND YOU

What is high potassium?

You need a certain amount of potassium in your blood to ensure that your heart, muscles, kidneys and nerves work properly. However, having too much, a condition known as hyperkalaemia, can lead to serious heart problems. 

Diagram: potassium is needed for organs to work but too much is dangerous
Foods, such as bananas, that should be avoided if you have high potassium

Am I at risk?

Although there are some rare causes of high potassium it is most often seen in people whose kidneys don’t work as well as they should. Your kidneys balance the amount of potassium taken in with the amount lost in urine. Potassium is taken in through the foods you eat and liquids you drink. It is filtered by the kidneys, and lost through urine. When your kidneys aren’t working properly this balance is disrupted. Kidney disease is often caused by diabetes and high blood pressure.

A diet high in potassium may also cause high potassium, especially in people whose kidneys are already not working properly. 

If you have been told you have high potassium you may be advised to follow a potassium-restricted diet.

Learn what foods to avoid if you have high potassium
Identify the signs of high potassium

Some drugs may also affect how your kidneys work and cause potassium levels in your blood to rise. 

When discussing your potassium levels with your doctor it is extremely important that they know about all the medicines you are taking – prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal. 

It is also important that you do not just stop taking your prescription medicine, particularly if you have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease.

Some medicines can lead to high potassium

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

Salt
substitutes

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

Blood
pressure
medicines

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

Water
tablets

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

Supplements

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

Some
anitbiotics

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

nSaids

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

Some immuno-
suppressants

 Examples of medicines that can lead to high potassium

Herbal
remedies

How will I know if my potassium is high?

It is not easy to tell if you have high potassium because most people don’t show any signs. If you do get symptoms, they will usually be mild and similar to those associated with many other conditions. You may feel:

  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness

If you experience the following symptoms call an ambulance or go to the emergency department:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

In most people high potassium develops slowly over weeks or months and is most usually mild. 

However, it can come on suddenly and a very high level of potassium is a life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical care. 

Because most people don’t have any specific symptoms, high potassium is usually found by chance during a routine blood test. A level of potassium above 5.0 is considered high.

Discover what to do if you have high potassium

What should I do if my potassium is high?

High potassium can be treated with diet and/or medicines and if you have high potassium your doctor will develop a treatment plan with you. 

You will probably be advised to follow a low-potassium diet. Your doctor or dietician will be able to advise you on how strict you need to be and how to work out what foods you can eat.

Note what foods are best for a low-potassium diet

You should avoid taking salt substitutes and some supplements and medicines. However, there are some medicines that can help to lower the levels of potassium in your blood, such as water pills (diuretics). However, they need to be used with care. 

Some medicines are specially designed to remove potassium from your system. These so-called potassium binders pass through the body picking up potassium as they go. They often come as a powder that you mix with a small amount of water or juice.

When swallowed, they ‘stick’ to the extra potassium in the bowels and remove it. Not all potassium binders are the same so always read the leaflet carefully. Potassium binders are not suitable for use in children.

What can I eat? What should I avoid?

It can be difficult to restrict your diet. 

However, if you have high potassium or a condition like diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease that puts you at risk of high potassium, it is important that you do your best to follow a low-potassium diet. 

There are plenty of healthy options in all the food groups to enable you to eat tasty and nutritious meals that are low in potassium.

High-potassium foods

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You may need to limit these foods in your diet:

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Fruits
Bananas, melons, oranges, nectarines, kiwi, mango, papaya, prunes, pomegranate, dates, dried fruits, dried figs

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Vegetables
Avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, parsnips, pumpkin, vegetable juices, white potatoes, winter squash, tomato and tomato-based products, deep-coloured and leafy green vegetables (such as spinach or Swiss chard) dried beans and peas, black beans, refried beans, baked beans, lentils, legumes

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Other
Milk and yogurt, nuts and seeds, bran and bran products, chocolate, granola, molasses, peanut butter, salt substitutes

Lower-potassium foods

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You may need to include these in your diet, but limit your portion size:

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Fruits
Apples, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, grapefruit, pears, pineapple raspberries, strawberries

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Vegetables
Asparagus, cabbage, aubergine, green beans, green peas, iceberg lettuce, onions, radishes, turnips, water chestnuts

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Other
Rice, noodles, pasta, bread and bread products (not whole grain), pies without chocolate or high potassium fruit, cookies without nuts or chocolate

But it’s not just about eating low-potassium foods. Because almost all foods contain some potassium, portion size and how the food is prepared is important:

  • Always drain canned foods before serving and do not use the liquid
  • Consider ways of preparing food that will further reduce the amount of potassium, such as soaking, rinsing and cooking vegetables in large volumes of water