DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an 83-year-old woman with very high potassium. I don’t know how to bring it down. What is the cause of this? What should I do? – J.P.

Potassium is an important mineral with many jobs. It helps generate the electricity that keeps the body alive. Without it, muscles wouldn’t contract, nerves wouldn’t fire to transmit information and the heart wouldn’t beat.

Too much potassium in the blood can be a serious health threat. It weakens muscles and can stop the heart from beating. Our kidneys regulate how much potassium is in the body, and they do a good job. It’s almost impossible to overdose on potassium from food and drink.

If the kidneys fail, potassium levels rise. Nonfunctioning adrenal glands and red blood cells breaking up in the circulation can cause potassium elevation. You can do nothing on your own about these matters. The doctor who ordered your potassium test should be taking charge of this.

Symptoms of high potassium include muscle weakness, erratic heartbeats and a change in the blood to the acid side.

Your lab test might be an error. If the tech who drew your blood left the tourniquet on your arm too long, if you were told to open and close your fist too hard and too frequently to make veins more visible, your blood potassium could be falsely elevated. Call up that doctor, and get this matter settled.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My girlfriend is 57. She goes to the bathroom at least 20 times an hour. My doctors tell me this isn’t normal. She also drinks four 32-ounce bottles of wine a day. She tells me she is fine and works every day. Lately she’s been drinking before she goes to work. Is this normal? – M.G.

It’s not even close to normal. Running to the bathroom every three minutes isn’t normal. Slugging down 4 quarts of wine a day isn’t normal either. Your girlfriend has an alcohol problem. That huge volume of wine might explain her need to urinate so frequently, but I can’t be sure if it is the only reason for it. She must see a doctor to get help with her drinking and to be examined for anything that could be causing such excessive urination. Her liver isn’t going to withstand the alcohol assault it gets on a daily basis. She needs help now. She ought to consider Alcoholics Anonymous.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: More than a year ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. When I didn’t respond to Parkinson’s medication, I was referred to a neurologist, who diagnosed me as having multiple system atrophy. I would value your comments. – R.C.

Multiple system atrophy is one of the “Parkinson’s Plus” syndromes. Early on, its symptoms are suggestive of Parkinson’s disease, but it evolves into an illness that has signs that aren’t common to Parkinson’s, and it often fails to respond to Parkinson’s medicines. Multiple system atrophy affects a part of the brain also affected by Parkinson’s disease so muscle rigidity and slow movement – Parkinson’s signs – are also common to it. However, it affects the cerebellum too, a part of the brain unaffected by Parkinson’s. The cerebellum controls muscle coordination. Disturbances in it make walking difficult and articulating words troublesome. Furthermore, the autonomic nervous system – the part of the nervous system that operates without our volition – suffers. A drop in blood pressure on standing, which makes people dizzy, is one result of autonomic nervous system malfunction.

There is no cure medicine for multiple system atrophy. However, medicines that deal with specific symptoms can be prescribed. For example, if a person does suffer a blood pressure drop upon standing, medicines can keep blood pressure in the normal range.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I read in your column that it is important to wash your hands and rinse them with cold water. Is cold water chosen to close the pores? – J.E.

My answer was given to dispel the theory that hot water is necessary to rid the hands of germs. Hot water is not more effective than tepid water or cold water. The hottest water obtainable from a faucet isn’t hot enough to kill germs, but is hot enough to make you feel pain. You don’t need such hot water for germ removal. Cold or tepid water gets the job done as well.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Three years ago, I had my first baby, and during pregnancy my blood sugar rose. I was treated for diabetes. Since I delivered, my sugars have been good. We would like to have more children. Will I get diabetes again? Could it stay with me this time? – K.H.

Diabetes that comes with pregnancy and goes after delivery is gestational diabetes. During pregnancy, the placenta makes many hormones that require an increased production of insulin to control blood sugar. Women who are not able to provide that increase in insulin develop diabetes. Anywhere from 1.4 percent to 14 percent of pregnant women are stricken with gestational diabetes.

You have an increased risk for coming down with gestational diabetes in subsequent pregnancies. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot have more children. Gestational diabetes has health implications for the mother and the baby. During pregnancy, the mother might experience a rise in blood pressure and might begin to lose protein in the urine. Babies born to mothers whose blood sugar isn’t under control are larger than normal, and often a C-section is required to deliver them.

You must control your weight, and you must become a hard-core exerciser, now and during pregnancy. Your doctor will keep close tabs on your blood sugar during future pregnancies. If it rises, you’ll go on a diabetic diet, and you might require treatment with insulin.

Women who have had gestational diabetes are under a threat of having permanent diabetes. You should be checked for diabetes yearly, pregnant or not. You have to stay on the slim side.

The diabetes booklet explains this illness and its treatment. Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. To obtain a copy, write: Dr. Donohue – No. 402, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

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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