Hypokalemia, Hypokalemia or Hypokalemia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Index

What is it?

It is a metabolic imbalance that is characterized by extremely low levels of potassium in the blood. The body needs potassium for the contraction of muscles (including the heart), and for the functioning of many complex proteins, called enzymes.

Hypokalemia is also known as hypokalemia or hypokalemia.

Potassium is found mainly in skeletal muscle and bone, and it participates with sodium to contribute to the normal flow of bodily fluids between cells in the body.

The normal concentration of potassium in the body is regulated by the kidneys through the excretion of urine.

When the kidneys are functioning normally, the amount of potassium in the diet is sufficient for use by the body and the excess is excreted usually through urine and sweat.

The body’s chemicals and hormones such as aldosterone also regulate the balance of potassium.

When hypokalemia occurs, there is an imbalance resulting from dysfunction in this normal process, or rapid loss of urine or sweat without replacement of sufficient potassium.

Signs and symptoms

Hypokalemia is asymptomatic, that is, without obvious signs of the disease. However, the symptoms of hypokalemia can include attacks of severe muscle weakness, which eventually lead to paralysis and respiratory failure.

Muscle malfunction can lead to bowel paralysis, low blood pressure, muscle spasms and mineral deficiencies such as tetany.

Hypokalemia can also affect the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine, resulting in excess urine (polyuria) and excessive thirst (polydipsia).

Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. There may also be irregularities of the heart seen in electrocardiographic changes, confusion, distension of the abdomen, a decrease in mental activity.

Causes

It occurs as a result of excessive loss of potassium through urine, sweat or feces. It is always a symptom of another disorder, rather than a disease that occurs by itself.

Excessive excretion of potassium in the urine can result from the use of diuretic drugs, a deficiency of magnesium in the blood, kidney disorders, or the use of high doses of penicillin.

Gastrointestinal losses of potassium are usually due to diarrhea or vomiting, chronic abuse of laxatives, inadequate potassium intake, intestinal obstruction, or infections such as fistulas in the intestine that continuously drain intestinal fluids.

In addition, excessive perspiration due to heat or exercise can cause hypokalemia.

Tests and exams

Blood test to check potassium levels. Also, it is possible that other blood tests are performed, in order to verify levels of: glucose, magnesium, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, thyroid hormone, aldosterone. In some cases, an electrocardiogram (ECG) is performed to control the heart.

Treatment

If the condition is mild, the doctor may prescribe oral potassium pills. In contrast, if the hypokalemia is severe, you may need to administer potassium intravenously.

Similarly, the consumption of potassium-rich foods can help treat and prevent low potassium levels. Some of these foods can be:

  • Avocados
  • Baked potato.
  • Bananas
  • Saved.
  • Carrots
  • Cooked lean meat.
  • Milk.