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Family Physician
Family Physician, Doctor (MD)
Category: Health
Satisfied Customers: 12816
Experience:  Emergency Medicine and Family Practice for over 26 years
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I received a potassium level reading of 6.1 today. I'm a

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I received a potassium level reading of 6.1 today. I'm a male, 6' tall, 220 lbs (muscular, not fat), 41 years old, exercise daily, and I have one kidney. (The other was removed 13 years ago. It was operating normally. It needed to be removed due to a tumor surrounding it, which was the result of testicular cancer.) No symptoms other than this initial reading. I thought I ate a healthy diet, but it's basically a list of high potassium foods: yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, avocados, bananas, salmon, nuts, coffee, spinach. Due to (1) my high potassium diet and (2) my having only one kidney, how likely is it that my condition is caused by inappropriate diet and can thus be rectified with an appropriate one? Moreover, I ate a dinner of pork loin, tomatoes, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie last night, and I felt a little dehydrated this morning. Could this have skewed the test? Lab tests are far from perfect (and it's my understanding that a 24-hr urine test is more accurate than the basic blood test).
Thank you for your question:

Do you know any of the other results (Creatinine, BUN, Sodium, Glucose etc)?

Have you ever had a high potassium before?

What medications do you take?

Did your doctor suggest anything about this result?
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

[Not sure if this already came through. If so, just ignore.]

Creatinine was 1.7. Nothing else was out of the ordinary. According to online research (yeah, I know, it's the net), normal is 0.6 to 1.2. (The doctor's assistant, though, told me that 0.5 was normal.) I read that 1.8-1.9 can be normal for people with one kidney. I also read that for adult males who lift weights and who are muscular, such as myself, higher levels can be normal. I don't have a baseline, as I haven't had a physical in years. Never had high potassium before. No medications. I have been taking Isa-Test Testosterone Stimulator (which is over the counter and is supposed to boost testosterone naturally; based on increased nighttime erections I'd say it's working) and OxyElite Pro, which is more or less a caffeine stimulant (trying to burn a little excess fat).

I have several issues with the doctor. (That doesn't mean I necessarily think his prognosis is wrong.) One, all of his assistants are overweight/obese. Two, neither during the physical nor upon delivering the results did he ever ask me about or mention exercise OR diet. Three, his assistant called my emergency contact first (not me, and my phone is always on, and it's always with me) AND told him the results. Four, then the assistant called me right after. Five, the assistant used adjectives ("alarming") to describe the results rather first give me the numbers and then tell me what was normal. Six, the assistant told me I needed to come to their emergency room immediately.

His fear is preserving the remaining kidney, which I fully understand and of course have every incentive to protect. Regardless, my instinct was to do research first. It's my understanding that a 5.1-6.0 reading is considered mildly elevated, that a 6.1-7.0 reading is moderately elevated, and that a level above 7.0 is highly elevated and needs to be treated immediately. If so, I'm on the border of being mildly to moderately elevated, and I eat a diet that's saturated with potassium. I told the doctor I'd come back tomorrow for another reading, but I'm thinking of going elsewhere. On his advice, I've been drinking a lot of water. Not on his advice, I've immediately adjusted to a lower potassium diet, and going forward I'll be counting milligrams and getting tested regularly.

Thank you for the additional information:

As with any laboratory test, the first thing to consider is the fact that the result is possibly an error or artifact. Potassium is primarily an intracellular (inside cells) substance. If the blood hemolyzed (red blood cells break open) during collection or prior to testing, this can cause artificial elevation (artifact) of the potassium.

In cases where I get a high potassium with relatively normal kidney function as measured by creatinine - I ALWAYS repeat the test before I order any treatment (or diet changes).

A potassium of 6.1, can cause potential serious heart rhythm problems. For this reason, I would urgently repeat the test to be sure that this was not a lab error/artifact and then try to determine the cause of the elevation if the repeat test was in fact elevated.
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