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Hypokalemia


Hypokalemia is the medical term used for low blood potassium. It is also referred to as low serum potassium and has been coined as K+. Blood potassium is an electrolyte and mineral inside the bloodstream. Blood potassium help to regulate the amount of fluid around the blood cells and regulates the hydration levels in the body.

When potassium levels are depleted in the blood the body feels weak. Without potassium the arm and leg muscles can not move, the heart can not beat, and the nerves become impaired. 98% of the body’s potassium is stored inside the cells. 1 in 5 people who are hospitalized for health conditions have at least a mild form of hypokalemia.

HYPOKALEMIA SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of hypokalemia can mimic other conditions. Symptoms include feeling weak and tired, tingling, numbness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation, palpitations of the heart, excessive urinating, excessive thirst, fainting typically due to low blood pressure, or abnormal psychological behavior such as depression, confusion, psychosis, hallucinations, or delirium.

HYPOKALEMIA CAUSES

Hypokalemia can be caused by a number of factors such as the removal of a kidney or kidney malfunction, as the kidney controls the body’s level of potassium. Magnesium deficiencies, leukemia, vomiting, diarrhea, over use of enemas or laxatives, post ileostomy surgery, the use of diuretics, medications for asthma and emphysema, some metabolic states, the use of insulin, poor potassium diet, or malnutrition can all lead to hypokalemia.
Hypokalemia
Image: Hypokalemia

HYPOKALEMIA RISK FACTOR

Those who are most at risk include people with kidney transplants or donations, people with poor eating habits or eating disorders, those who have a malfunctioning kidney, and those who are diabetic. Hypokalemia often attacks when a patient is in a weakened state or in a physical condition that is abnormal for them.

HYPOKALEMIA DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosing hypokalemia typically requires a blood test. Because hypokalemia can be indicative of other illnesses and may even present as other illnesses, other tests may be done previously while attempting to rule out various causes for the symptoms. Blood tests are typically done to monitor blood potassium levels as well as periodically check kidney function. An echocardiogram may be performed to ensure that there has not been excessive strain on the heart.

HYPOKALEMIA COMPLICATIONS

Complications from hypokalemia may include cardiac arrhythmias, dehydration, fainting, kidney damage, cellular damage in very severe cases, and rarely, death. Complications do not typically occur in most patients as they seek medical treatment for their symptoms. The only exception to this is people with eating disorders who are still in a state of secrecy and denial regarding their eating disorder.

HYPOKALEMIA TREATMENT

Medical treatment for hypokalemia may involve intravenous fluids and a cardiac monitor. Patients with hypokalemia who are showing no symptom can be given potassium in pill form to take care of the problem. However, for those with cardiac complications, admittance in the local hospital for observation and increased potassium intake will be required as it may take anywhere from several hours to several days to restore potassium levels to a healthy output. Intravenous and oral medication may be necessary for those with significantly low blood potassium and symptoms.


Patients on ACE inhibitors may develop an overload of potassium if given potassium supplements. Potassium sparing diuretics as well as salt substitutes which contain potassium can also result in an overload of potassium. Most patients who take potassium supplements or intravenous care have their blood potassium levels checked two to three days later. Diagnosing the cause is important to avoid another episode. If medication is the cause, the medication may be changed to avoid potassium depletion.

HYPOKALEMIA PREVENTION

Home care for hypokalemia is fairly simple. Strenuous exercise or physical labor is not recommended until the body has been restored of enough potassium. Increasing potassium intake through diet and supplements can often relieve the problem. Medications that contribute to hypokalemia should be eliminated from the patient’s daily intake. Hypokalemia does not need to be a life threatening event. Good nutrition and post hypokalemic care can rectify the situation and allow the patient to lead a normal life. People who have been diagnosed with hypokalemia in the past who get tired or dizzy during strenuous exercise or labor should stop immediately and contact their doctor for a potassium level blood test. Returning symptoms should be treated with swift care.

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