Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2015;92(6):online

See related article on potassium disorders: hypokalemia and hyperkalemia

What is potassium?

Potassium is a mineral that helps the cells in your body work correctly. Foods with a lot of potassium include bananas, potatoes, yams, dried apricots, almonds, avocados, coconut water, soybeans, and bran. You can get potassium from eating most fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish.

What can cause potassium to be too low?

You can lose too much potassium in the urine or stool. This can happen by taking certain medicines, such as diuretics (“water pills” to treat high blood pressure), or if you have diarrhea. Some people don't get enough potassium in their diets, but this is rare.

What can cause potassium to be too high?

Certain medicines can cause high potassium. Some examples are angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors; angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), which are used to treat high blood pressure; and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Kidney problems may also cause you to have too much potassium.

How do I know if I have potassium problems?

Your doctor can measure potassium with a blood test. Sometimes other tests are used to help find the cause of the problem.

How are potassium problems treated?

If a medicine is causing it, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it or to take a different one. For low potassium, you may need to take potassium supplements. If potassium is too high, your doctor may give you medicine to help the body get rid of extra potassium.

When your potassium level is very high or very low, you might need to stay in the hospital so that doctors can give you intravenous medicine and monitor your heart.

Continue Reading


More in AFP

Copyright © 2015 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.