DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is the significance of having elevated potassium? I have had it for a long time. I’ve been told to give up bananas, but I haven’t eaten one in 20 years. I have also given up citrus fruit and potatoes. – R.S.

Potassium is found inside body cells, where it keeps them in electrical balance and figures into muscle contractions, the heart’s beating and nerve cell transmission. Normal blood potassium is 3.5 to 5.0 mEq/dL (mmol/L). How high is yours? A slight elevation is not a big worry.

Sometimes blood potassium comes back high when the tourniquet wrapped around the arm prior to drawing blood is left in place too long or when red blood cells break up during the collection of blood. They release potassium.

It’s extremely rare for foods rich in potassium to raise blood levels, since the kidneys are so efficient in regulating body potassium.

However, kidneys that aren’t functioning up to par are one cause of elevated blood levels of potassium. Also, when body cells die, as happens with massive trauma, they release large amounts of potassium and raise the blood level. If the adrenal glands aren’t making enough of the hormones that control potassium levels, then the blood values go up. Some medicines can cause a potassium rise. ACE inhibitors – blood pressure medicines – are an example. Strenuous exercise temporarily elevates blood potassium.

A long-term potassium elevation should produce some signs and symptoms. Muscle weakness is one such sign. A very high blood potassium level makes the heart beat erratically and can even stop the heart from beating.

The next time you have your potassium checked, ask the technician to release the tourniquet quickly to eliminate that as a cause of your potassium elevation. To give a definite answer to your question, I’d need your potassium number.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: As a young woman, I have some major concerns about my health. I do not make any secretions during intercourse. My partner complains about vaginal dryness. I am also concerned that I might be infertile. I really want a child of my own, but I am afraid it is impossible. How do I overcome these issues? – T.C.

Vaginal dryness is a common complaint of women who are menopausal because of the drop in the production of estrogen that comes with menopause. You are not at the age for menopause, but you might have a condition that causes estrogen production to wane. Estrogen keeps the lubricating vaginal glands operating at peak efficiency. This is a matter that can be determined only by tests and a doctor’s examination. While waiting to see your doctor about this, you can ease the situation with vaginal lubricants, of which there are many. Lubrin and K-Y Jelly are two such products. What makes you think you’re infertile? Are you not having normal menstrual periods? That is another sign of estrogen deficiency and another reason to see the doctor.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can you explain what a left-handed heart is? A doctor told our son he has it and it is usually serious. He has a new doctor, who calls it something different. – Anon.

I have never heard of that. I can’t find it in cardiology textbooks or on the Internet. The cardiologists I have asked aren’t familiar with the term. How about writing me again with the name the new doctor has given the condition?

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In 1968, my 6-month-old daughter was in a walker in the kitchen when I went to take out the garbage. She came flying out the door and fell off three steps to the cement. She had a concussion and had to be hospitalized. She was rebellious, had an eating disorder and gave me trouble in many ways. Could the concussion have caused her to behave like this? – V.S.

I don’t believe that accident had anything to do with her behavior.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When the cataract was removed from my right eye, my doctor said it would take one or two years before I could see. Have you heard of this? What could be the cause? This doctor wouldn’t provide my other doctor with any information on what he did during the operation.

I don’t understand how I can get this information. Please let me hear from you. – E.B.

I have never heard that it takes one or two years for a person to see through the eye from which a cataract was removed. Most people can see well the following day or the day after. The doctor has an obligation to explain why your experience is so different from that of everyone else.

See another ophthalmologist. Nothing adds up here.

You have a right to a copy of your medical records. Call the doctor’s office and ask for them. If they refuse, seek the help of your county or state medical society. You might have to pay a small copying charge, but you are entitled to see your records.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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