Potassium is essential to many vital processes in the body. Potassium is involved in the proper functioning of nerve and muscle cells, digestion, metabolism and maintaining the balance of both electrical and chemical processes in the body. Potassium is especially important in cardiac function. Normal serum potassium levels range between 3.6 and 4.8 mEq/L. A high level of potassium in the blood is often indicative of an underlying kidney dysfunction.
Testing for an elevated serum potassium level involves a simple blood test performed in a lab, physician’s office or hospital. Commonly, the medical staff will run a panel of all
electrolytes as well as test kidney and liver function. Elevated serum potassium does not necessarily mean that the kidneys are malfunctioning or that there is an underlying disease process at work. In some cases, an elevated blood potassium level can appear falsely elevated. Physicians will often retest if an error is suspected.
If physicians confirm a diagnosis of hyperkalemia, treatment will involve not only treating the underlying condition but also balancing potassium levels. Calcium chloride or gluconate will help to minimize the effects of the excess potassium on the heart. Insulin, sodium bicarbonate and beta agonists will all help to promote the shift of potassium from blood to cells, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Diuretics can help promote excretion of excess calcium from the kidneys.