Potassium is an essential mineral that is found in foods such as potatoes and bananas. This mineral, found in every part of your body, facilitates muscle contractions including those of your cardiac system. Too much or too little of this electrolyte can cause disruption of your heartbeat and damage to your kidneys. Too much potassium is a condition known as hyperkalemia, which may not be immediately evident as symptoms sometimes develop gradually while potassium builds to toxic levels. High potassium levels do not typically cause liver problems unless left untreated for a prolonged period. Liver disease, however, is more likely to contribute to excess potassium in the body.
High potassium tends to occur in people with compromised kidney function because the kidneys are responsible for excretion of excess potassium. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the elderly are generally at risk for high potassium levels 15. This condition may not produce any symptoms or may affect your heart rate, causing a cardiac arrhythmia. In addition, you may experience weakness, fatigue and neurological problems such as numbness or tingling. Aside from kidney problems, other causes of high potassium include consumption of too much dietary potassium, traumatic injury and medications that affect potassium levels.
High Potassium and Your Liver
Dr. Margaret Roberson of Virginia Commonwealth University explains that excess potassium can lead to depolarization of sodium ions, which can cause irregular heart rhythms and sudden heart failure 13. While this effect doesn't directly affect the liver, it can destabilize the acid-base balance in your body. A 2006 article published in "Seminars in Nephrology" explains that acid-base imbalance in the body can both cause and be caused by liver dysfunction 4. More commonly, however, liver disease leads to high potassium levels.
Treatment for High Potassium
Because high potassium levels can lead to cardiac failure, initial treatment is to reduce potassium while stabilizing the heart at a normal rhythm. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that the administration of calcium can protect the cardiac muscle from the effects of potassium 15. In addition, diuretics and other medications can help flush potassium out of your body. If you have pre-existing liver disease, you may require ongoing medication to maintain normal potassium levels. Individuals with compromised kidney function may require a low-potassium diet with or without medication to control potassium levels.
Kidney disease, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, is the most common cause of high potassium levels in the body 15. Although this condition could alter the stability of your acid-base balance, the more immediate concern is the safety of the cardiac system. High potassium may not be realized until a routine blood test reveals that your potassium is too high. The National Institutes of Health adds that high potassium may indicate internal injury that can lead to permanent tissue or organ damage, including those of the liver 2.
Potassium is an essential mineral that is found in foods such as potatoes and bananas. In addition, you may experience weakness, fatigue and neurological problems such as numbness or tingling. Because high potassium levels can lead to cardiac failure, initial treatment is to reduce potassium while stabilizing the heart at a normal rhythm. Kidney disease, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, is the most common cause of high potassium levels in the body5.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Potassium
- National Institutes of Health: Hyperkalemia
- Virginia Commonwealth University; Hyperkalemia; Margaret Roberson, MD
- Seminars in Nephrology: Acid-Base and Potassium Disorders in Liver Disease; S. N. Ahya, et al.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Hyperkalemia
- Sebastian Kaulitzki/Hemera/Getty Images