How long is treatment for high potassium?

High potassium, also known as hyperkalemia, refers to elevated levels of potassium in the blood. Potassium is an important electrolyte that helps regulate nerve impulses and muscle function. However, when potassium levels get too high, it can lead to dangerous heart rhythm disorders. Treatment aims to lower potassium levels back to normal and prevent complications. The duration of treatment depends on the underlying cause and severity of the high potassium.

What causes high potassium levels?

Some common causes of high potassium include:

  • Kidney disease – Damaged kidneys have trouble removing excess potassium from the bloodstream
  • Medications – Such as NSAIDs, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors can interfere with potassium excretion
  • Addison’s disease – The adrenal glands don’t produce enough aldosterone hormone to regulate potassium
  • Tissue damage – Such as burns, trauma, surgery causes cells to release potassium into blood
  • High potassium diet – Eating too many potassium-rich foods like bananas, potatoes, tomatoes

Identifying the cause of the high potassium level is important, as this determines the appropriate treatment approach.

How is high potassium diagnosed?

High potassium is diagnosed with a simple blood test. Your doctor will order a potassium blood test, which is usually part of a comprehensive metabolic panel.

A normal potassium level is between 3.5-5.0 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). Mild high potassium is 5.1-6.0 mEq/L. Moderate high potassium is 6.1-7.0 mEq/L. Severe high potassium greater than 7.0 mEq/L requires emergent treatment.

Based on your potassium level and associated symptoms, your doctor will determine the severity and cause of the high potassium. Additional tests may be ordered such as kidney function tests, adrenal gland tests, EKG, and urinalysis.

What are the symptoms of high potassium?

Mild to moderate high potassium often has no symptoms. Severe high potassium can cause:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tingling or numbness

Dangerously high potassium above 7.0 mEq/L can cause life-threatening heart palpitations, paralysis, and arrhythmias. Seeking urgent medical care is critical if you experience any severe symptoms of high potassium.

How is high potassium treated?

The goals of treating high potassium are to:

  • Lower potassium level back to normal range
  • Prevent complications like arrhythmia
  • Treat underlying condition causing high potassium

Treatment depends on how high your potassium is and what is causing it. Options may include:


  • Diuretics – Flush excess potassium from the body through increased urination
  • Sodium polystyrene sulfonate – Bind to potassium in the colon so it is eliminated in stool
  • Calcium gluconate – Counteracts the effects of potassium on the heart
  • Insulin – Temporarily shifts potassium into cells
  • Albuterol – A bronchodilator that transports potassium into cells
  • Bicarbonate – Neutralizes potassium in the bloodstream

These medications work to lower potassium levels rapidly but are usually used short-term along with other treatments.

Dietary Changes

Your doctor may recommend dietary changes to lower potassium intake from foods:

  • Reduce high potassium foods – Such as bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice
  • Choose low potassium foods – Such as apples, green beans, grapes, blueberries
  • Avoid salt substitutes – Which contain potassium chloride

A nutritionist can provide specific guidelines for a renal diet appropriate for your needs.


If you have kidney failure, dialysis is used to filter excess potassium from your blood. This may be emergent dialysis to stabilize a very high potassium level. Ongoing dialysis can help manage chronic kidney disease causing high potassium.

Treating underlying condition

Addressing the underlying condition causing the high potassium is key. This may include:

  • Medications or steroids for adrenal insufficiency
  • Stopping or changing medications that raise potassium
  • Treating kidney disease
  • Managing fluid or electrolyte imbalances

Following an appropriate treatment plan for the underlying cause will help prevent recurrent episodes of high potassium.

How long does it take to treat high potassium?

The duration of treatment depends on the severity of your high potassium level:

  • Mild high potassium – May resolve on its own by stopping medications raising potassium or through dietary changes alone.
  • Moderate high potassium – Usually requires short-term medication therapy such as diuretics, in addition to dietary changes. Potassium levels can improve within 24-48 hours.
  • Severe high potassium – Requires emergency treatment with IV calcium, insulin, albuterol to stabilize levels rapidly. Further ongoing treatment is needed to address the underlying cause.

Periodic blood tests help monitor your potassium level to determine if it is responding to treatment or if any adjustments are needed to your medications or diet.

It can take 1-2 weeks for potassium levels to lower and stabilize in the normal range with appropriate treatment. Severe cases may require hospital monitoring for several days.

Once your high potassium is resolved, your doctor will continue to follow your levels closely. Further treatment may be needed to prevent high potassium from recurring. This could involve long-term diuretic medication, dialysis for kidney failure, or optimizing treatment for adrenal insufficiency for example.

In cases where the cause cannot be corrected, ongoing vigilance and management will be lifelong. With adherence to your doctor’s recommendations, high potassium can often be well controlled.

What are the complications of high potassium?

If left untreated, high potassium can become an emergency. Potential complications include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Respiratory paralysis
  • Death

Chronically high levels also increase risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage

That’s why prompt treatment is critical. With appropriate management under your doctor’s care, these complications can often be avoided.

Home care tips for high potassium

In addition to your doctor’s prescribed treatment plan, the following self-care tips can help:

  • Increase hydration – Drink adequate fluids to support potassium excretion through urine
  • Exercise – Light activity can shift potassium into cells and lower blood levels
  • Avoid NSAIDs – Don’t take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories without your doctor’s approval
  • Limit potassium foods – Follow dietary guidelines provided by your healthcare team
  • Take medications consistently – Stay on track with diuretics or other potassium-lowering drugs
  • Keep follow up appointments – Get regular lab tests to monitor potassium response to treatment
  • Notify your doctor – Report worsening symptoms or side effects from medications

Careful self-monitoring and working closely with your medical providers gives you the best chance of getting your high potassium under control.

When to seek emergency treatment

Although mild to moderate high potassium often causes no symptoms initially, severe elevations require emergency care.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular pulse
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness or fainting

Extremely high potassium is a medical emergency. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room for rapid treatment. Prompt stabilization of dangerous potassium levels can be lifesaving.


Treatment duration for high potassium depends on the severity and cause. Mild cases can resolve in 1-2 weeks with conservative measures. Moderate cases require short-term medication along with long-term dietary changes. Severe high potassium is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization to stabilize levels. Ongoing management is needed to prevent complications in those with underlying chronic conditions causing high potassium. Working closely with your healthcare team and diligently following treatment will provide the best outcomes.

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