Health Watch -- Potassium Overload

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Patients taking some medications for heart problems may need to keep an eye on their potassium levels.

Some patients with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases may need extra monitoring to watch the level of potassium in their blood, according to researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. That's because some of the medications given to treat these conditions may cause higher-than-normal levels of calcium in the bloodstream. Patients with high blood pressure and other heart problems are at increased risk for kidney problems, which can also raise potassium levels, so these medications may put patients at even higher risk.

It's important to maintain a balance of potassium between cells and the blood.  Potassium affects cell membranes, the heart and the pathways between the brain and muscles. High potassium levels can disrupt normal heart rhythms. Excess potassium is usually excreted by the kidneys, but if kidneys aren't working well, potassium can build up in the bloodstream.

Dr. Biff Palmer, a UT Southwestern kidney expert, says doctors need to be aware of patients who might be at risk so they can be monitored. Doctors need to know what other medications patients may be taking. There are over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies that may affect the way kidneys excrete potassium. Patients may also need to eat a low-potassium diet, limiting foods like orange juice, melons, bananas and salt substitutes containing potassium.


Aug. 2004

Health Watch is heard Monday through Friday nationwide on the "Stardust" format of ABC Satellite Radio. Call your local radio station and ask if they carry the program.