Hypokalemia

Equip yourself. Learn about hypokalemia.

Hypokalemia - low blood potassium levels

Hypokalemia is a metabolic disorder brought on by potassium deficiency, in which the potassium level in the patient's blood is low. A dietary element, potassium is necessary for the body's cells, in particular muscle and nerve cells. It also co-regulates adenosine triphosphate with sodium.

Causes

Hypokalemia may be caused by a variety of conditions. Others besides those mentioned here may lead to it, so a case of hypokalemia does not necessarily mean that one of the following items is the medical reason behind it:

Adrenal gland tumors
Antibiotics (some: amphotericin B, carbenicillin, gentamicin, etc.)
Bulimia and eating disorders
Deficient potassium in diet
Diabetic ketoacidosis (in diabetes)
Diarrhea
Diuretics, due to excess urination
Diseases affecting kidney potassium retention (Bartter syndrome, Cushing syndrome, Fanconi syndrome, hyperaldosteronism, Liddle syndrome, etc.); various kidney conditions
Excessive perspiration (sweating)
Excessive vomiting
Glycyrrhetinic acid (glycyrrhizin, from licorice root/extract)
Hereditary disorders (rare)
Hypomagnesemia (low magnesium in the blood)
Loss of potassium (often with heavy losses of fluid)
Renal artery stenosis
Surgery (procedures which result in potassium loss)
Thyrotoxic periodic paralysis

Read more about possible causes.

Symptoms

Hypokalemia symptoms vary in each individual case. Since these symptoms can occur due to other medical causes, they do not inherently mean that a person has hypokalemia. Some possible symptoms include:

Cardiac arrhythmias or dysrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms)
Constipation
Fatigue
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Hyporeflexia
Muscle cramps, pain (myalgia), spasms, or weakness
Paralysis
Respiratory depression
Rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown)
Tetany

Read more about possible symptoms.


Diagnosis

Diagnosis of hypokalemia is made by a doctor or medical professional. A blood test may be administered to check potassium levels. Additional tests may include: aldosterone, arterial blood gas, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), calcium, creatinine, electrocardiogram, glucose, magnesium, phosphorous, and thyroxine.

Treatment

Treatment may vary in each individual case of hypokalemia. In mild cases, oral potassium supplements may be taken. Intravenous (IV) potassium may be administered in some severe cases. If diuretics must be used by the patient, then those may be changed to a type that keeps potassium within the body. In hypokalemia caused by thyrotoxic periodic paralysis, treatment may aim to lower thyroid hormone level.

Prevention

A major method of help in preventing hypokalemia is by maintaining a diet with potassium rich foods. Bananas, oranges and tomatoes are some common choices, but there are many more possibilities. Read a much larger list.