Hypokalemia (low potassium in blood)

Chest | Endocrinology and Metabolism | Hypokalemia (low potassium in blood) (Disease)


Potassium is one of the primary electrolytes (crucial chemicals for cell function), and is concentrated within the cells of the body. Only 2% of the bodys total potassium is available in the serum. Small changes in the serum levels of potassium can affect body function. One of the more important functions of potassium to maintain the electrical activity of the cells in the body. Cells with high electrical activity (for example, muscles and nerves) are particularly affected when potassium levels fall.

Normal serum potassium levels range from 3. 5 to 5. 0 mEq/liter in the blood. Normal daily intake of potassium is 70-100 mEq (270 to 390 mg/dl), and requires the kidneys to remove that same amount each day. If more is removed, the bodys total potassium store will be decreased, and the result is hypokalemia (hypo=low + kal=potassium +emia= in the blood) occurs.

Causes and Risk factors

Hypokalemia is not commonly caused by poor dietary intake. The most common reason that potassium levels fall is due to the loss from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the kidney.

Potassium loss from the GI tract may be caused by: vomiting, diarrhea, ileostomy (in some patients who have had bowel surgery and have an ileostomy, the stool output can contain significant amounts of potassium), villous adenoma (a type of colon polyp that can cause the colon to leak potassium), laxative use.

Causes of potassium loss from the kidney: diuretic medications (water pills) like hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) or furosemide (Lasix), elevated corticosteroid levels (either from medication like prednisone or from an illness like Cushings Syndrome), elevated levels of aldosterone (a hormone that can increase with renal artery stenosis or adrenal tumors

Renal tubular acidosis), low body magnesium levels.

Low potassium levels may result from side effects of some medications (aminoglycosides like gentamicin (Garamycin) or tobramycin (Nebcin) Amphotericin B), or prednisone.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Potassium enters the body through dietary intake. Examples of potassium rich foods include: bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, strawberries, kiwi, avocados, apricots, greens, mushrooms, peas, beets, tomatoes, beef, fish, turkey. ...

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