Study finds link between abnormal potassium levels and an increased risk of heart failure

People with heart failure should also take care of their potassium levels. According to a study in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, patients with heart failure who also have abnormally high levels of potassium in the blood are more likely to see themselves be readmitted to a hospital, or worse, die as a result of the condition.

Potassium is a mineral that is essential for cells, such as those found in heart muscles, to function normally. Together with sodium concentrations, potassium concentrations play an important role in electric signal functioning of the myocardium, which is the middle thick muscle layer of the heart. When the potassium level in the body becomes higher than normal, proper electric signals in the myocardium are disrupted. This, in turn, could lead to different types of problems with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat and death.

For the study, researchers from Spain looked at whether high potassium levels at admission predicts one-year outcomes in elderly patients admitted for acute heart failure. In conducting the study, the Spanish researchers examined more than 2,000 older people with heart failure from the RICA Spanish Heart Failure Registry, who were classified according to their levels of potassium. They assessed whether the participants’ potassium levels were significantly associated with one-year all-cause death or hospital readmission and their combination. At admission, 3.38 percent of patients had hyperkalemia and 6.06 percent had hypokalemia or abnormally low levels of potassium.

The researchers found that 43 percent of the participants died or were readmitted for heart failure during the follow-up period. The risk was also higher for those with abnormally high levels of potassium. These results suggest that high potassium levels may be linked to poor health status in people with heart failure.

Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that older people with heart failure and, at the same time, elevated potassium levels are at a greater risk of readmission and death.

People with heart failure are more likely to have hyperkalemia

Heart failure affects more than 37 million adults around the world and is one of the leading causes of hospitalizations and death. Hyperkalemia, which is defined as having higher than normal potassium level, is a concern in people with heart failure. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association also looked at the link between potassium levels and heart failure. A team of researchers from Denmark and Norway conducted the large population-based cohort study in Denmark to investigate the occurrence, risk factors, and outcomes of hyperkalemia in people with heart failure.

The study, which included 31,649 people with heart failure, found that almost 4 in 10 heart failure patients developed hyperkalemia over two years, and recurrences were common. The risk of developing hyperkalemia was significantly higher in heart failure patients who have weakened kidney function and those who use spironolactone, a drug for high blood pressure and heart failure. Furthermore, the team found that hyperkalemia was associated with severe clinical outcomes, such as arrhythmias, intensive care admission, and death, in people with heart failure.

With these findings, the research team suggests that efforts to prevent and control hyperkalemia should be given to individuals with heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes mellitus, and to those who use spironolactone. (Related: Tips for balancing diet with potassium for people with kidney disease.)

“Our data support the need for regular potassium measurement to identify patients with HF [heart failure] at risk of serious clinical outcomes and death,” wrote the researchers.

Read more news stories and studies on the effects of potassium on the heart by going to

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