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Hypokalemia is a technical term for a low level of potassium. This is a component of the blood, and it's one of the most vital ones. If you experience mild hypokalemia, the serum level of potassium is below 3.5 mEq/L. On the other hand, if you have severe hypokalemia, your level of serum potassium is below 2.5 mEq/L. A person who experiences this condition has potassium levels which are abnormally low. By contrast, there's also a condition called hyperkalemia which occurs when the potassium levels are unusually high.

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What is Potassium?

Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body. It's crucial for the functions of cells which is why it's also concentrated within the bodies of the cells. You can only find about 2% of the total potassium in the body in the blood serum or stream. Because of this, any changes in the potassium's serum levels can affect the body's functions. This is especially true because this component is crucial in maintaining the electrical activities of all the body's cells. This means that the cells which have high electrical activities are the most affected when you experience hypokalemia.

What is Potassium?
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Why is it so important?

Potassium is really important to the human body. Among all its functions, the most vital is its role in muscle contraction and nerve communication. Without this component, the nerves can't transmit any signals to the muscles. In turn, the muscle cells can't move the body. You need to monitor your potassium levels to make sure they're correct. This is because both hypokalemia or hyperkalemia have the potential to become life-threatening.

Why is it so important?
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What are the main causes of hypokalemia?

One of the leading causes of hypokalemia is poor intake. This means that you aren't consuming enough potassium in your diet. This may be because of dental problems, eating disorders, and more. If you don't replace the potassium you lose, you might start experiencing the symptoms of the condition. Increased secretion of the element is also a major cause of hypokalemia. This happens when you experience diarrhea, excessive vomiting or excessive urination. When this happens, the potassium in the body gets expelled a lot faster than you can replenish it. Finally, another primary cause is a fluid shift in your body. This, in turn, is a result of high insulin doses, high beta antagonist doses or extended paralysis.

What are the main causes of hypokalemia?
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Potassium loss from the GI tract can cause hypokalemia

One cause of hypokalemia is the loss of potassium in the GI tract. This happens when you vomit excessively, or you're experiencing diarrhea. It can also occur if you've undergone a bowel surgery and you have an ileostomy. In this case, your stool may contain considerable amounts of potassium. The GI tract can also lose potassium when it leaks out because of a kind of colon polyp called a villous adenoma.

Potassium loss from the GI tract can cause hypokalemia

Potassium loss from the kidney can cause hypokalemia

Finally, hypokalemia can also occur when there's a loss of potassium from the kidneys. This happens when a person takes diuretic medications. It can also occur when you have elevated levels of corticosteroid which can also be an effect of a medication. Renal tubular acidosis elevated aldosterone levels, and low levels of magnesium in the body can also cause this potassium loss.

Potassium loss from the kidney can cause hypokalemia

Common symptoms of hypokalemia

Symptoms of hypokalemia range from weak to severe. But most of the symptoms are usually mild. A lot of people who suffer from the condition for extended periods of time experience either no signs or very few of them. Weakness and feelings of fatigue are common symptoms especially for mild cases of hypokalemia. For the more severe cases, you may experience muscular cramps or pain. Also, it may be a lot more challenging to control the symptoms of diabetes as well as the levels of blood glucose if the patient is also hypokalemic. Those who have the condition may also experience palpitations, other types of heart arrhythmias, and respiratory failure. Finally, this condition may even come with some mental issues such as depression, hallucinations, and psychosis.

Common symptoms of hypokalemia

Diagnosis of hypokalemia

It's quite easy to measure the levels of potassium in the blood through some routine blood tests. Low levels of potassium is usually an indication of a potential complication because of medication. That's why those who take diuretics and other types of medication need constant monitoring. Also, patients who have diarrhea or are excessively vomiting may start getting dehydrated and weak. In such cases, the doctor may run a test to check their electrolyte levels. This is important to replace the potassium lost in the body.

Diagnosis of hypokalemia

Treatment of hypokalemia

The treatment of this condition typically focuses on controlling the potassium loss, replacing the potassium, and preventing further damage. First, the doctor will have to deal with the problem that's causing the hypokalemia. To do this, the doctor will perform the needed tests and check all the medications the patient is currently taking. This will help the doctor determine what's causing the condition. After that, the next step is to start replacing the lost potassium. For mild cases of hypokalemia, doctors may prescribe some oral supplements to replace the potassium. For the more severe cases, the patient may need intravenous potassium as treatment. At this time, the doctor should monitor the serum levels of potassium as well as the magnesium levels carefully. As a final step, you have to take some steps to prevent any loss of potassium in the future.

Treatment of hypokalemia

What is periodic paralysis?

There are rare cases when all of the body's potassium shifts from the serum to the body's cells. When this happens, the serum potassium levels become very low which causes paralysis. The patient's muscles weaken, and usually, this usually affects the legs and arms. Rarely would the swallowing or breathing muscles get involved. Periodic paralysis can either be hereditary, may come suddenly because of certain factors or may even happen without an obvious cause.

What is periodic paralysis?

Ways to prevent hypokalemia

Normally, the body can maintain the proper levels of potassium. That is as long as the person consumes enough potassium regularly. When the person suffers from a short-term illness and loses some potassium, the body can still compensate for that loss. So the best way to prevent hypokalemia is to consume foods which contain a lot of potassium.

Ways to prevent hypokalemia

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.