Dangers of High Potassium
High potassium is normally not a problem in the tissue of the body or the blood stream--the kidneys work to filter it out. However, should something act to inhibit the kidneys, excessively high potassium is known as hyperkalemia, and it can be fatal. This is because the human heart is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This nervous system uses an exchange of potassium and sodium molecules into and out of the cells in the nerves to create the electrical impulse by which the heart beats. Should the level of potassium in the body become too high, it creates an imbalance in the sodium-potassium “pump” and the sufferer goes into cardiac arrest. Hyperkalemia’s only symptoms are an irregular heartbeat and a faint feeling.
Arthritis medications are typically corticosteroids. Prednisone is one of the most powerful and dangerous among them; conversely it’s the most effective at relieving arthritis symptoms, so it’s in wide use. It acts upon the adrenal gland to make it produce cortisol, a natural anti-inflammatory. However, cortisol acts by decreasing the amount of salt in the body’s tissues. If used regularly over a period of more than a year, prednisone can retard the amount of sodium in the body to the degree that the levels of potassium are too high in comparison. This can result in hyperkalemia and open the sufferer to all the associated dangers.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are supposed to be a safer version of prednisone and other arthritis medications as they don’t affect the adrenal glands. They act by inhibiting the body’s cells from producing an enzyme called prostaglandin, which is responsible for much of the immune system’s inflammatory response. However, one type of prostaglandin called COX-1 supports the body’s production of platelets and enhances its ability to stop bleeding. Thus it can thin the blood, but more importantly, the kidneys need COX-1 to function properly. If taken regularly for more than a year or in more than the prescribed doses, NSAIDs can cause scarring of the kidneys and eventually their failure. Because the kidneys become scarred, they are less able to filter out the excess amounts of potassium we consume in our daily diets.