Hypokalemia is defined as decreased potassium levels in the body. Potassium is a micro-mineral, an electrolyte that is required for the proper functioning of the heart, nerves and maintaining salt-water balance in the body. Low levels of potassium may be life-threatening. Hypokalemia may occur as a result of the increased rate of loss of the body’s potassium or reduced intake. Several causes of hypokalemia may co-exist simultaneously in the body.
Potassium is usually found in fruits like bananas, grapes, papaya, avocados, unprocessed foods, such as fresh leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, and beans.
Appropriate potassium intake (100 milligrams per day) reduces the risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of kidney stones, maintains muscle mass and bone density.
What are the early signs and symptoms of hypokalaemia?
Temporary low potassium levels in the body may usually not present with obvious symptoms. Long term low levels of potassium can produce the following signs and symptoms:
- Muscle cramps
- Constipation (due to non-functioning of electrolytes)
- Tingling in the fingertips and toe tips
- Numbness over the body
- Breathing difficulties because of paralysis of muscles of respiration
- Mood changes like irritability or drowsiness.
- Constant thirst and the urge to go to the bathroom.
- Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm).
- This may be felt as unconsciousness, feeling giddy, or chest pain. This requires immediate medical attention.
- Severe cases can cause muscle paralysis.
- This may be a temporary condition reversible for replacing the lost potassium.
What are fourteen possible causes of hypokalemia?
Some common causes of hypokalemia include:
- Excessive vomiting
- Excessive diarrhea
- Eating disorders (Anorexia nervosa) where the person eats less to lose weight and this results in severe starvation and dehydration.
- Chronic kidney disease-causing increased loss of potassium in the urine
- Certain medications like diuretics (they decrease fluid level in the body and increase urination) used for blood pressure control, antibiotics, and chronic use of laxatives
- Poor nutrition is seen in extreme starvation
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (high levels of acids called ketones in the blood in uncontrolled diabetes)
Certain diseases can be associated with low potassium, such as:
How is hypokalemia diagnosed?
The doctor will obtain a detailed history and perform a clinical assessment. Blood and urine analysis indicate the level of potassium in the body and can confirm the diagnosis of hypokalemia. An electrocardiogram may be done to rule out heart complications.
How is hypokalemia treated?
The treatment options include:
- Treating the underlying cause. E.g. Dehydration, underlying any kidney condition, hormonal imbalance.
- Mild dehydration can be corrected by increasing the fluid intake and
- Intravenous solution like ringer lactate may be required in case of required in the case of cardiac arrhythmias.
- Stopping medication that may be causing hypokalaemia with the doctor’s advice.
- Psychological support to manage alcoholism and eating disorders.
- Always talk to your doctor before starting any supplement. Accumulation of potassium in the body may be dangerous to health.
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Top What Is Hypokalemia? Related Articles
ammonium chlorideAmmonium chloride is an acidifying agent administered intravenously to treat metabolic alkalosis and low chloride levels (hypochloremia). Do not take ammonium chloride if you have impaired liver or kidney function. Common side effects of ammonium chloride include metabolic acidosis, ammonia toxicity symptoms, rapid breathing (hyperventilation), EEG abnormalities, involuntary muscle contractions due to electrolyte imbalance (calcium-deficient tetany), seizure, mental confusion, drowsiness, injection site reactions, rash, low blood potassium levels (hypokalemia), high blood chloride levels (hyperchloremia), abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Consult your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Common Medical Abbreviations & Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
ConstipationConstipation is defined medically as fewer than three stools per week and severe constipation as less than one stool per week. Constipation usually is caused by the slow movement of stool through the colon. There are many causes of constipation including medications, poor bowel habits, low-fiber diets, laxative abuse, and hormonal disorders, and diseases primarily of other parts of the body that also affect the colon.
Why You Need Potassium and How to Get ItPotassium-rich foods like bananas, potatoes, prunes, oranges, tomatoes, lima beans, and sunflower seeds help your nerves, muscles, and bones. Potassium reduces the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Low potassium (hypokalemia) and high potassium (hyperkalemia) can cause issues.
Potassium FoodsIt turns out lots of things have more potassium than a banana! Here's a guide to the tastiest choices.
Arrhythmias (Abnormal Heart Rhythms): Types, Triggers, Warning Signs, and TreatmentHeart rhythm disorders vary from minor palpitations, premature atrial contractions (PACs), premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), sinus tachycardia, and sinus bradycardia, to abnormal heart rhythms such as tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, ventricular flutter, atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome, brachycardia, or heart blocks. Treatment is dependent upon the type of heart rhythm disorder.
High Potassium (Hyperkalemia)Hyperkalemia is an abnormally high level of potassium in the blood. Hyperkalemia symptoms include nausea, fatigue, tingling sensations, or muscle weakness. Hyperkalemia may also cause no symptoms. Hyperkalemia treatment may include a low-potassium diet, medications, and intravenous glucose and insulin. Causes of hyperkalemia include kidney dysfunction, certain medications, adrenal gland diseases, and potassium shifts.
Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)
Potassium is an essential electrolyte necessary for cell function. Low potassium (hypokalemia) may be caused by diarrhea, vomiting, ileostomy, colon polyps, laxative use, diuretics, elevated corticosteroid levels, renal artery stenosis, and renal tubular acidosis, or other medications. Symptoms of low potassium include weakness, aches, and cramps of the muscles. Treatment is dependent upon the cause of the low potassium (hypokalemia).
Muscle CrampsMuscle cramps are involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscles that do not relax. Extremely common, any muscles that have voluntary control, including some organs, are subject to cramp. Since there is such variety in the types of muscle cramps that can occur, many causes and preventative medications are known. Stretching is the most common way to stop or prevent most muscle cramps.
Muscle Cramps: TreatmentMuscle cramps cannot be stopped instantly with injections or pills, but some methods can be useful to relieve them which include stretching, massage, application of heat and cold, walking and taking B vitamins.
potassium bicarbonatePotassium bicarbonate is a medication used as supplemental potassium to treat and prevent low blood potassium levels (hypokalemia). Common side effects of potassium bicarbonate include abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas (flatulence), and hyperkalemia. Consult your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
sodium benzoate/sodium phenylacetateSodium benzoate/sodium phenylacetate is a medication used in the treatment of excessive ammonia levels in the blood (hyperammonemia) and associated brain damage (encephalopathy) in patients with urea cycle disorders. The combination medication reduces the ammonia levels in the blood and is administered by intravenous (IV) infusion as an adjunct treatment in addition to appropriate dietary and other supportive measures. Common side effects of sodium benzoate/sodium phenylacetate include high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), high ammonia levels in the blood (hyperammonemia), low blood potassium levels (hypokalemia), low blood calcium (hypocalcemia), excessive acidity of body fluids (acidosis), metabolic acidosis, respiratory acidosis, convulsions, brain swelling (edema), coma, mental impairment, psychiatric disorders, agitation, injection site reactions, fever (pyrexia), and others.
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