Potassium Deficiency

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Potassium Deficiency
Potassium Deficiency treatment

Potassium deficiency or hypokalemia is a condition when the organism lacks one of the most important trace elements – potassium - because of various causes. The larger part of potassium is inside the cells, but the organism’s potassium levels are evaluated according to potassium levels in extracellular fluids.  


Potassium deficiency may arise because of inadequate diet – when the food lacks potassium (the largest amounts of potassium are in meat, fruits and vegetables, especially in bananas as well as dried fruits). Another cause is increased excretion through the kidneys (because of diuretics – furosemide, torasemide) as well as through the gastrointestinal tract (diarrhea). Excessive sweating is another cause of hypokalemia.

One more cause of potassium deficiency is extracellular potassium shift inside the cell. It can happen in case of alkalosis (a life-threatening condition when the blood turns alkaline), as well as because of large doses of salbutamol, adrenalin and insulin.

Signs and symptoms

Potassium is essential for normal functioning of the heart, muscles and nerves. Symptoms of potassium deficiency depend on the severity of hypokalemia. Normal potassium levels are 3,5 - 5 mmol/l. If potassium drops to 3 - 3,5 mmol/l, fatigue, muscle cramps and pain may manifest. The heart rate may become more frequent, rhythm disorders may appear (atrial flutter, fibrillation). 

When potassium levels continuously drop down, the patients become constipated; their muscles get damaged even more. In case of extreme hypokalemia (2,5 mmol/l and less), the patients may become paralyzed, their breathing might stop, later on rhabdomyolysis might develop (the muscles break down, their  metabolites get into kidneys, which may be followed by renal insufficiency). When potassium levels drop down even more ventricular fibrillation might be provoked. If untreated, this condition quickly results fatally.  


The most accessible examination is electrocardiogram. Unfortunately, the signs of potassium deficiency are unspecific in the ECG. Only rhythm disorders can be noticed. 

Blood tests show potassium deficiency very accurately. Potassium blood levels is a routine test, which is done in all laboratories. Physicians suspect potassium deficiency when there are rhythm disorders or other characteristic changes in the ECG, also, when the patient has symptoms mentioned above. 


In case of severe hypokalemia potassium salts are administered intravenously – mostly potassium chloride. Clinically insignificant hypokalemia is corrected using potassium tablets or solutions. It is a healthier and more recommended way, but in this case potassium levels recover only in several days.


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