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How-to Understand Hypokalemia

By Edited Oct 27, 2013 1 1

As a nurse, the value of potassium, in promoting optimum functioning of the human body, is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, many people don't realize the critical role that this electrolyte plays in our bodies. Whether you are a nurse, or are simply interested in learning about potassium, in general, I will teach you more about this essential electrolyte, and explain its role in the body, as well as provide you with a variety of common food sources where you can find potassium in abundance.

Firstly, one must understand that complications can arise dependent upon whether potassium is supplied in excess in your body, or if there is a clear deficit. For both ends of the recommended normal range (3.5-5.0 mEq/L) spectrum, either an excess, or a deficit, of potassium can be potentially life-threatening. This is because every body system is essentially affected by the presence, and/oror absence, of Potassium.

Secondly, hypokalemia is the medical term for when a serum potassium level is less than the recommended 3.5 mEq/L in your body. This can occur for a variety of reasons and, dependent upon one's medical condition, may actually be of greater concern than it is for others. Rarely does an active child experience these losses, however, those who experience excessive use of medications like diuretics or corticosteroids. Because of the commonality of these medications, it is very possible that you may know someone who has at least one of these integrated into their medication regimen.

A low potassium level can also occur in conjunction with any condition that pushes fluids out of your body. For example, this may occur with vomiting, whether intentionally provoked or unintentionally, as well as diarrhea. Excessive sweating, which is called 'diaphoresis' in the medical community, can also cause this.

Thirdly, any fluctuation of normal body functioning typically has some sort of assessment associated with it that can assist a healthcare provider in determining the extent, or severity, of that particular condition. A low potassium level in your body, because of its incredible importance to all your systems, can manifest as some alteration, or deterioration in at least 5 of your bodily systems, to include: cardiovascular (your heart), respiratory (your lungs), neuromuscular, gastrointestinal, and renal (your kidneys).

More oftentimes than not, all of these bodily systems will be affected in conjunction. With regards to your cardiovascular system, you may see clear alterations in your own pulse, or heart rate. This may become thready, weak, or irregular, along with weak pulses that extend out to your hands and legs, which would otherwise be your 'peripheral' pulses. Healthcare professionals can also be cognizant of slight alterations in your electrocardiogram, which can clue us into these possible deficits, long before we allow them to have a significant impact on your condition.

Fourthly, for just about every variation in your bodily functioning, healthcare professionals can apply some sort of intervention in order to correct it. Many times, we have many resources at our disposal that we can use in order to take a proactive, multi-faceted, approach towards remedying your problem. Not only can we monitor certain laboratory values, or distinct and subtle changes in your electrocardiogram, but we can also administer potassium supplements orally or intravenously (through your vein, directly into your bloodstream). Of course, with any intervention, there are particular precautions that we will take in order to ensure that potassium supplementation isn't delivered to your body in a manner that could possibly hurt you.

Fifthly, in conjunction with a variety of interventions that healthcare professionals have at their disposal, it is also imperative that you are familiar with foods that can help correct low potassium levels. Dependent upon how severe your potassium deficit, you may be encouraged to eat some combination of these foods, along with daily potassium supplementation. While bananas may be one of the most common foods that contain potassium, they are by no means the 'end-all-be-all' of choice in this regard. Potassium can also be found in avocados, cantaloupe, carrots, fish, mushrooms, oranges, potatoes, pork, beef, veal, raisins, spinach, strawberries, or tomatoes. Had you not been particular fond of Bananas, some patients are surprised that there are so many other potential sources of potassium.

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Comments

Aug 21, 2010 12:29pm
Amarimom
Hi Howie, thanks for the info regarding hypokalemia, I've just discovered that my potassium level is too high and have been advised to either avoid or reduce the intake of certain foods and then come back in a few weeks time to check whether it has normalized. I was really surprised at the foods I can or cannot have and have been trying really hard to avoid them as I know it's for my own benefit.

Very informative article!
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