DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A recent blood check showed that my potassium was high. I was told to stop eating bananas and drinking orange juice. I also was told to return to the doctor’s office the next week. I did. They took another blood sample. They told me nothing more.
What happens when potassium is high? — F.H.
ANSWER: Potassium has many important jobs. It keeps the body’s electrical charges balanced. It’s involved in transmitting nerve signals. It’s needed to keep the heart beating and muscles contracting. It takes part in keeping the body neither too acid nor too alkaline.
High blood potassium raises blood sugar, weakens muscles, causes nausea and vomiting, and triggers erratic and dangerous heartbeats. When the level is very high, potassium paralysis and death occur. Your potassium must not have been all that high. You had no symptoms.
The causes of a high blood level include kidney illnesses, nonworking adrenal glands, a lack of insulin, sudden death of body cells, overuse of potassium supplements and medicines like beta blockers.
The blood level of potassium can be read erroneously as high when the patient, during blood collection, keeps clenching and unclenching arm muscles. It rises when blood cells break apart in their journey from a patient’s arm to the laboratory. It could be your reading was high because of either of these situations.
It’s hard to come up with an explanation that indicts an illness with raising potassium on one occasion and not keeping it raised for a short while.
The electrolytes — sodium, potassium, bicarbonate and chloride — are not well understood by most people. Yet they are responsible for many body ailments. Readers can read about these minerals in the booklet describing their function. Write to Dr. Donohue — No. 202W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Swallowing became a real problem for me. Food would get stuck on its way to my stomach. I tried all sorts of over-the-counter medicines, but nothing worked. I saw a gastroenterologist, who put a scope down my swallowing tube. He discovered that there was a constricting ring of tissue at the bottom of it. How did I get it? He opened it with a balloon. Can it come back? — C.W.
ANSWER: You’re talking about a Schatzki (SHOT-ski) ring. It is as you say — a fold of tissue encircling the lowermost part of the esophagus, and it does cause food to hang up there.
How did you get it? Some theorize that reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus explains why it developed. Acid reflux is a fancy way of saying heartburn. However, people can have reflux and a Schatzki ring but not have any heartburn symptoms. Meat and large pieces of bread are the foods most likely to get stuck.
Stretching the ring with a balloon or other device usually fixes the problem. However, it can come back, and it often does. Because recurrence is common, many doctors put their patients on medicines that suppress stomach acid production. ©2011 North America Synd.