What Are Potassium Binders and How Do They Work?
Your body needs potassium for healthy cell, nerve, and muscle function. This essential mineral is found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and beans. According to the National Institute of Health, healthy adults need about 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day.
Most of us don’t get enough potassium in our diets. But getting too much potassium can cause a potentially dangerous condition known as hyperkalemia.
This condition is more common in people with certain chronic health conditions. It’s also linked to taking certain medications or a potassium supplement along with a high-potassium diet.
Eating a low-potassium diet recommended by your doctor can help reduce your potassium levels. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication called a potassium binder if diet changes aren’t enough.
What are potassium binders?
Potassium binders are drugs that bind to extra potassium in your bowels. This excess potassium is then removed from your body through your stool.
These medications often come in a powder that you mix with water and drink with a meal. They’re sometimes taken rectally with an enema.
There are various types of potassium binders made with different ingredients. It’s important to follow your medication’s instructions carefully. Always take a potassium binder 6 hours before or after taking any other medications.
Your doctor will likely suggest other measures to help manage your potassium levels. These may include:
- going on a low-potassium diet
- reducing or adjusting the dosage of any medication that causes your body to retain potassium
- prescribing a diuretic to increase your urine output and flush out excess potassium
Types of potassium binders
There are several types of potassium binders your doctor may prescribe:
- sodium polystyrene sulfonate (SPS)
- calcium polystyrene sulfonate (CPS)
- patiromer (Veltassa)
- sodium zirconium cyclosilicate (ZS-9, Lokelma)
Patiromer and ZS-9 are newer types of potassium binders. They’re safe to take with medications often prescribed for heart disease that can increase the risk of hyperkalemia.
Potassium binder side effects
Like any medication, potassium binders may cause side effects. Common potassium binder side effects include:
- abdominal pain
These drugs may also impact your calcium and magnesium levels. Talk to your doctor about potential side effects.
What is the danger of too much potassium?
Moderate amounts of potassium support cell functioning in your body and electrical signal functioning in your heart. But more isn’t always better.
Your kidneys filter excess potassium in your body and release it in your urine. Consuming more potassium than your kidneys can process can lead to hyperkalemia, or high levels of potassium in your blood. This condition interferes with electrical signals in the heart.
Many people with hyperkalemia notice few if any symptoms. Others may experience numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and a slow or irregular pulse. Hyperkalemia can eventually cause an irregular heartbeat and lead to serious complications and death if it’s left untreated.
You may be at higher risk of hyperkalemia if you have:
- chronic kidney disease
- type 1 diabetes
- congestive heart failure
- liver disease
- adrenal insufficiency (when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones)
It’s possible to develop hyperkalemia if you combine potassium supplements with a high-potassium diet. The condition is also linked to medications like ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers.
Your doctor will recommend treatments to get your potassium blood level within a healthy range, usually between 3.5 and 5.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Sudden high levels of potassium can cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, or vomiting. See your doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms as they can be life threatening.
Potassium is an essential mineral we need in our diets. But getting too much can lead to a buildup of potassium in your blood known as hyperkalemia. This condition is more common if you have certain chronic health conditions or take certain medications.
Hyperkalemia can lead to life threatening complications. Many people don’t have symptoms of hyperkalemia, so talk to your doctor if you’re at higher risk of the condition.
Hyperkalemia is also very treatable. Your doctor may recommend using a potassium binder in combination with a low-potassium diet to help keep your potassium levels within a healthy range.