High potassium levels, or a condition known as hyperkalemia, can occur due to diabetic ketoacidosis, reports MedicineNet. A lack of insulin in patients with Type 1 diabetes can lead to the breakdown of fat cells, triggering the release of ketones that turn the blood acidic. The combination of acidosis and high glucose levels causes fluids and potassium to move into the blood; if the kidneys fail to excrete potassium into urine, hyperkalemia occurs.
Diabetics are at increased risk for kidney dysfunction, warns the National Kidney Foundation, and their kidneys may be unable to excrete potassium efficiently out of the body, putting them at increased risk of hyperkalemia. However, the kidneys can also be damaged or have their functions affected by unrelated health conditions such as Addison's Disease, which targets the adrenal glands adjacent to the kidneys.
Mild hyperkalemia is not serious, but medical attention is usually recommended to prevent it from worsening, warns MedicineNet. Severe hyperkalemia can cause cardiac arrest; untreated hyperkalemia has a high mortality rate. Hyperkalemia can also cause muscle paralysis in some patients.
Hyperkalemia does not always present with symptoms, but patients have reported feelings of nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness and tingling, states MedicineNet. In most cases, symptoms do not start appearing until the potassium levels are very high, approximately 7 milliequivalents per liter or higher, compared to the normal 3.5 to 5 milliequivalents per liter.