HYPOKALEMIA AND HYPERKALEMIA
Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte. The name originated from the Latin word KALIUM which translates to potash hence the kalemia. An electrolyte is a substance whose components dissociate in solution into positively charged (cation) and negatively charged (anion) ions. In the body, fluids and electrolytes are in equilibrium. Anything that distorts this balance will result in fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
Potassium is an important mineral that helps your muscles work, including the muscles that control your heartbeat and breathing. Potassium comes from the food you eat. Your body uses the potassium it needs. The extra potassium that your body does not need is removed from your blood by your kidneys.
The Normal blood level of Potassium is 3.5-5.0mmol/l. Anything above 5.5mmol/l is hyperkalemia an anything below 3.0mmol/l is hypokalaemia.
Sources of potassium
The most common source of potassium is from food. Potassium-rich sources include:
- Fruits, such as apricots, bananas, kiwi, oranges, and pineapples
- Vegetables, such as leafy greens, carrots, and potatoes
- Lean meats
- Whole grains
- Beans and nuts
Most people get enough potassium by eating a balanced diet. For low potassium levels, a doctor may prescribe the mineral in supplement form. If you have a severe deficiency, you may need intravenous (IV) treatment.
Potassium deficiency: <3.0mmol/l (Hypokalemia)
Certain conditions can cause potassium deficiencies, or hypokalemia. These include:
- kidney disease
- inadequate intake
- overuse of diuretics
- excessive sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting
- magnesium deficiency
- use of antibiotics, such as carbenicillin and penicillin
Symptoms and Signs of Hypokalemia
The symptoms of hypokalemia are different depending on how severe your deficiency is.
A temporary decrease in potassium may not cause any symptoms. For example, if you sweat a lot from a hard workout, your potassium levels may normalize after eating a meal or drinking electrolytes before any damage is done.
However, severe deficiencies can be life-threatening. Signs of a potassium deficiency include:
- extreme fatigue
- muscle spasms, weakness, or cramping
- irregular heartbeat
- Cardiac arrest/ heart attack
- constipation, nausea, or vomiting
Hypokalemia is usually diagnosed with a blood test. Your doctor may also order an electrocardiogram of your heart and an arterial blood gas test to measure pH levels in your body.
- Potassium supplements are usually the first course of action for levels that are too low. Supplements are mostly effective if your kidneys are in good shape.
- Severe hypokalemia may require IV treatment, especially if you’re experiencing an abnormal heartbeat.
- Potassium-sparing diuretics can rid the body of excess sodium. This will help normalize electrolyte levels. But, some diuretics and potassium supplements can be harsh on the digestive tract.
Ask a doctor for wax-coated pills to help prevent digestive issues. Only people with normal kidney function can use potassium-sparing diuretics.
Potassium overdose:>5.5mmol/l (Hyperkalemia)
This is when there is too much potassium which can cause hyperkalemia. This is rare in people who eat balanced diets. Risk factors for overdose include:
- taking too many potassium supplements
- kidney disease
- prolonged exercise
- cocaine use
- potassium-conserving diuretics
- severe burns
The most obvious symptom of too much potassium is an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia). Severe cases can lead to death.
Symptoms and Signs of Hyperkalemia
- Early – hyperactive muscles , paraesthesia
- Late – Muscle weakness, flaccid paralysis
- Change in ECG pattern
- Bradycardia, heart block, cardiac arrest
- People with mild cases of high potassium rarely have noticeable symptoms. Your doctor should order occasional blood work if you have any risk factors.
- Mild cases of hyperkalemia can be treated with prescription medications that increase potassium excretion. Other methods include diuretics or an enema.
- Severe cases may require more complex treatments. Kidney dialysis can remove potassium. This treatment is the preferred for cases of kidney failure.
- For people with healthy kidneys, a doctor might recommend insulin and glucose. These help to transport potassium from the blood to cells for removal.
- An albuterol inhaler can also lower dangerously high levels. Calcium gluconate may be used temporarily to stabilize the heart and reduce the risk of serious heart complications from hyperkalemia.
What’s the outlook for imbalanced potassium levels?
Changes in body potassium may not be a concern if you don’t have risk factors. Healthy kidneys are often enough to regulate body potassium.
Medical conditions that affect levels should be monitored regularly. Call your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms.