In our last blog we discussed about the importance of potassium in human body. Potassium is a chemical (electrolyte), critical for the proper functioning of nerve and muscles cells, particularly heart muscle cells. However, one must understand that too low or too high levels of it can have adverse effects on our body. Let’s look at some of the factors that cause the potassium levels to drop or increase.
Low potassium (hypokalemia) refers to a lower than normal potassium level in your bloodstream. Hypokalemia has many causes, the most common being, excessive potassium loss in urine due to prescription water or fluid pills (diuretics). Vomiting or diarrhea or both can result in excessive potassium loss from the digestive tract. Only rarely is low potassium caused by not getting enough potassium in your diet.
Causes of potassium loss leading to low potassium include:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Excessive alcohol use
- Excessive laxative use
- Excessive sweating
- Folic acid deficiency
- Prescription water or fluid pills (diuretics) use
- Some antibiotic use
Hyperkalemia is the medical term that describes a potassium level in your blood that’s higher than normal. Often, a report of high blood potassium isn’t true hyperkalemia. Instead, it may be caused by the rupture of blood cells in the blood sample during or shortly after the blood draw. The ruptured cells leak their potassium into the sample. This falsely raises the amount of potassium in the blood sample, even though the potassium level in your body is actually normal. When this is suspected, a repeat blood sample is done.
The most common cause of genuinely high potassium (hyperkalemia) is related to your kidneys, such as:
- Acute kidney failure
- Chronic kidney disease
Other causes of hyperkalemia include:
- Addison’s disease (adrenal failure)
- Alcoholism or heavy drug use that causes rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle fibers that results in the release of potassium into the bloodstream
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Destruction of red blood cells due to severe injury or burns
- Excessive use of potassium supplements
- Type 1 diabetes
Food is the major source of potassium, particularly good sources include bananas, citrus juices, avocados, tomatoes, potatoes, lima beans, salmon, cod, chicken and most meats.
PS – Causes mentioned here are commonly associated with these symptoms. Always consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
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