Hypokalemia

Hypokalemia means a low potassium level in the blood. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps regulate the amount of fluid in the body. It also stimulates muscle contraction and maintains a stable acid-base balance. Most of the body's potassium is inside of cells, and only a very small amount is in the blood. Because the amount in the blood is so small, minor changes can have big effects.

PREPARATION FOR TEST

Testing for potassium requires taking a blood sample taken by needle from a vein in the arm. The skin is cleaned thoroughly before the sample is drawn. There is no other special preparation needed.

NORMAL VALUES

Potassium levels below 3.5 mEq/L are abnormally low. Levels above 5.1 mEq/L are abnormally high.

Ranges for normal findings may vary among different laboratories and hospitals. You should always check with your doctor after having lab work or other tests done to discuss the meaning of your test results and whether your values are considered within normal limits.

MEANING OF TEST

Your caregiver will go over the test results with you and discuss the importance and meaning of your results, as well as treatment options and the need for additional tests, if necessary.

A potassium level is frequently part of a routine medical exam. It is usually included as part of a whole "panel" of tests for several blood salts (such as Sodium and Chloride). It may be done as part of follow-up when a low potassium level was found in the past or other blood salts are suspected of being out of balance.

A low potassium level might be suspected if you have one or more of the following:

  • Symptoms of weakness.

  • Abnormal heart rhythms.

  • High blood pressure and are taking medication to control this, especially water pills (diuretics).

  • Kidney disease that can affect your potassium level .

  • Diabetes requiring the use of insulin. The potassium may fall after taking insulin, especially if the  diabetes had been out of control for a while.

  • A condition requiring the use of cortisone-type medication or certain types of antibiotics.

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea for more than a day or two.

  • A stomach or intestinal condition that may not permit appropriate absorption of potassium.

  • Fainting episodes.

  • Mental confusion.

OBTAINING TEST RESULTS

It is your responsibility to obtain your test results. Ask the lab or department performing the test when and how you will get your results.

Please contact your caregiver directly if you have not received the results within one week. At that time, ask if there is anything different or new you should be doing in relation to the results.

TREATMENT

Hypokalemia can be treated with potassium supplements taken by mouth and/or adjustments in your current medications.  A diet high in potassium is also helpful.  Foods with high potassium content are:

  • Peas, lentils, lima beans, nuts, and dried fruit.

  • Whole grain and bran cereals and breads.

  • Fresh fruit, vegetables (bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, tomatoes, honeydew melons, potatoes).

  • Orange and tomato juices.

  • Meats.

    If potassium supplement has been prescribed for you today or your medications have been adjusted, see your personal caregiver in time02 for a re-check.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • There is a feeling of worsening weakness.

  • You experience repeated chest palpitations.

  • You are diabetic and having difficulty keeping your blood sugars in the normal range.

  • You are experiencing vomiting and/or diarrhea.

  • You are having difficulty with any of your regular medications.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or episodes of dizziness.

  • You have been having vomiting or diarrhea for more than 2 days.

  • You have a fainting episode.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.