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: Marg, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: November 08

I have suffered low potassium since August 2013 and felt really ill and ended up in hospital for a day. I had an ECG, blood tests, etc., all came back normal but for the potassium levels of 3.3. I was told to eat bananas every day for a week and the levels rose. I am on beta blockers, diuretics and other medication. I am also insulin dependent type 2 diabetes. I am still having severe sweating, palpitations, nausea and tiredness. I am due to see a medical consultant next week and hope I can get an answer to what is the actual cause.

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Comment from: Denita RN, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: January 03

I had surgery in October 2013 and haven't felt good since. I have had extreme shortness of breath and tachycardia, I told my doctor and was put on Iron for anemia. I went back with same symptoms and was told it would take 4 to 6 weeks, to get better. The surgery was for obstruction, gallbladder and appendix removal and hernia repair (7th surgery in 5 years). I have had diarrhea 10 to 20 times daily since and more of the small intestine was removed. I was supposed to have an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy), to determine what was causing the diarrhea (wrong end if you ask me), so I canceled the procedure and drove myself to the emergency room. Other than severe weakness, shortness of breath and heart rate of 160 with any movement, I really didn't feel bad. I just knew I was unable to return to work and needed answers. I was admitted to the ICU with potassium level less than 0.7, bilateral pulmonary emboli and a massive blood clot in my right leg. The doctors told my family that I was as close to being dead as a person could be - the low potassium had me in constant PVC (premature ventricular contractions) with an irregular heartbeat the pulmonary emboli were causing the severe shortness of breath. After 2 weeks they are still having trouble getting the potassium above 3; the doctor said my body was so depleted, that every time they get it up, the body sucks it into storage, so I am still on IV and potassium replacements. I am finally able to stay awake and feel like I might be able to return to work. I am thankful to still be alive!

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