byCynthia M. Johnson, MA
Potassium is a mineral that is needed to help the heart, kidneys, and other organs function. Hypokalemia is lower than normal levels of potassium in your blood.
All cells within the body need potassium. It works to regulate water and mineral balance throughout the body. Low levels can cause muscle and nerve problems throughout the body. It can also cause an irregular heart rate.
Potassium enters the body through food and digestion. It passes out of the blood through the kidneys. Hypokalemia occurs when there is not enough potassium being absorbed into the body, too much potassium is removed by the kidneys, or potassium moves from the blood into the cells.
Factors that may increase with potassium excretion through the kidneys include:
Factors that may shift potassium into cells:
Excess loss of potassium from diarrhea
Factors that may decrease your intake or absorption of potassium include:
Early hypokalemia may not have any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Potassium levels in your body fluids will be tested with:
An EKG may be done to see if the potassium is affecting your heart.
The main goal of treatment is to increase the level of potassium in your body. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
IV fluids may be given. You may also be given the following to raise the amount of potassium in your blood if it is very low:
Your current medications may be changed if they are the cause of your hypokalemia.
Any underlying condition will be treated.
You may be advised to increase the amount of potassium in your diet. You may be referred to a dietitian to help you balance the potassium in your diet.
To help reduce your chance of getting hypokalemia, take these steps:
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
The Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism
Hypokalemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 15, 2013. Accessed November 6, 2014.
Hypokalaemia. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/hypokalaemia. Updated December 4, 2013. Accessed January 8, 2014.
Hypokalemia. NORD website. Available at: https://www.rarediseases.org/rare-disease-information/rare-diseases/byID/748/viewFullReport. Updated February 2, 2008. Accessed January 8, 2014.
Last reviewed November 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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