Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Potassium is one of the primary
chemicals for cell function), and is concentrated
within the cells of the body. Only 2% of the body's 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 body's total potassium store will be decreased, and the result is hypokalemia (hypo=low + kal=potassium +emia= in the blood) occurs.
Potassium enters the body through dietary intake. Examples of potassium rich
Potassium affects the way neuromuscular cells discharge energy (depolarize)
and then regenerate (repolarize) that energy to be able to fire again. When
potassium levels are low, the cells cannot repolarize and are unable to fire
repeatedly, as is needed for the function of muscles and nerves. It is
understandable then that the effects of low potassium include:
muscle aches, and
Since the heart is also a muscle, there can be some changes in the
electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) that are associated with hypokalemia. Palpitations (irregular
heartbeats) may be experienced by the patient. In severe cases, hypokalemia can
lead to dangerous disturbances in heart rhythm (arrhythmias).