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Heart Disease overview > Heart Health Q&A >

Concerned About High Potassium

Q: I'm a healthy 58-year-old woman with high blood pressure, which I control with medication. My doctor wants me to restrict my potassium. Since I'm a vegetarian, almost everything I eat contains potassium. I have been checked for potassium six times in six months, and four times my level has been over 5.5 mEq/L. Help!

A: A normal potassium level should fall between 3.7 to 5.2 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). A potassium score of 5.5 mEq/L falls into the category of abnormally elevated levels of potassium and could indicate kidney disease or diseases of the adrenal gland. 
Commonly used medications for the treatment of arthritis, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and blood pressure medications, also can lead to this condition.
Review all medications, vitamins, mineral supplements, and over-the-counter drugs you take with your doctor to determine if they are causing the problem. Also, consult a kidney specialist to exclude any underlying kidney or adrenal disease.
A diet low in potassium is important for those with this condition, so you may want to work with a registered dietitian to determine how to eat a low-potassium diet and still remain a vegetarian.


Jennifer H. Mieres, M.D., is director of nuclear cardiology and associate professor of clinical medicine at New York University. She’s also a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

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