Low Potassium (Hypokalemia) - Diagnosis

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How was the diagnosis of your low potassium (hypokalemia) established?

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How is low potassium diagnosed?

Potassium levels in the blood may be easily measured by routine blood tests.

Low potassium is often a potential complication of medication. For example, patients with high blood pressure who are being treated with diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide (Hydrodiuril) or furosemide (Lasix) often have their potassium levels monitored.

Patients who become ill with vomiting and diarrhea, may develop dehydration and weakness. Part of the patient evaluation may include having their electrolyte levels tested in order to determine whether body potassium losses may need to be replaced.

There can be electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) changes associated with low potassium, and sometimes the diagnosis of low potassium is made incidentally by finding the characteristic "U" waves on the EKG tracing. In severe cases, hypokalemia can lead to dangerous disturbances in heart rhythm (dysrhythmia).

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Comment from: dhinny, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: June 24

I was admitted in hospital last January 20, due to hypokalemia paralysis. It started with my legs aching and lower extremities cramped. I could no longer raise my legs and my left hand. My blood pressure (BP) was 140/100. My potassium level dropped to 1.7. I was given rapid potassium and an oral pill and been under intensive care. After 4 days of admission I was released from the hospital. The diagnosis was, it was due to my hyperthyroidism. Just a week ago, I was again admitted to the hospital due to shortness of breath and a minor chest pain, my lower extremities got weaker and it ached. I knew my potassium level had dropped again, so I told my mom to immediately bring me to the emergency room. Result showed my potassium level was 1.9. I was again given a rapid potassium of 2 six cycles and an oral pill taken three times a day. This time my lab results were all normal so we can't determine yet what the primary cause is. As soon as my potassium level dropped, my BP rose to 170/100. I was instructed by my doctor to eat banana every day.

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Comment from: jellybeans529, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: August 11

I started having shortness of breath, like I could not get enough air into my lungs. I had just started hormone progesterone 4 months earlier and thought I had too much in my system, which would cause shortness of breath. By the 10th day of shortness of breath, now followed by dizziness, tingling and cold in my hands and feet, and panic, I went to the hospital. EKG, stress test (an awful test by the way), and an echocardiogram showed nothing wrong with my heart and an ultrasound showed no blood clot. The doctor saw my potassium was down to 3.3 so she gave me 40 mg of potassium. Within 30 minutes, I was feeling better and no shortness of breath, just exhausted. I was discharged and went home. The next day, the same symptoms came on again so back to the emergency room I went. The doctor there told me that it was all in my head and to take the anti-anxiety pill he was going to give me and go home. I fought him tooth and nail and told him to draw more blood and look at my potassium levels. He didn't want to but didn't want to fight me either, so my results came back at 3.4 and he insisted that this was normal even though it was out of range. He was adamant that this 3.4 level would not cause any symptoms. I told him I wanted more potassium and I wanted to get back into range. Thirty minutes after giving me the potassium, I was much better. I was discharged and will be going to my primary doctor to get monitored and back on track. If your lab test results are out of range, don't let a doctor tell you that it is normal, you should not be having any symptoms, and it is just anxiety. Any low level can cause all kinds of problems for different people.

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