Potassium is a very important mineral and must be taken on daily bases. It participates in many processes in the body such as maintaining normal heart rhythm, nerve impulse control and muscle control. Furthermore, this mineral is necessary for numerous enzymatic reactions and is engaged in metabolism of carbohydrates. Proper intake and adequate elimination of potassium maintain optimal levels of this mineral and prevent complications associated with the excess or lack of potassium.
Normal Potassium Levels in Humans
Normal potassium levels range between 3.5 and 5.0 mEq/L. In case the potassium level is above the previously mentioned range a person is suffering from hyperpotassemia (hyperkalimia) and if the level of potassium is lower than 3.5mEq/L the person is suffering from hypopotassemia (hypokalemia).
Hypopotassemia is a condition in which the level of potassium drops below 3.5 mEq/L. In case of hypopotassemia there is increased risk of an abnormal heart rhythm and there is also a chance of rhabdomyolysis (a breakdown of muscle fibers). People suffering from hypokalemia are weak, they complain about fatigue and constipation. The level of potassium can be easily measured by a simple blood test and once hypokalemia is confirmed the treatment must be urgent. In case of minor reduction in potassium the optimal level can be obtained from food rich in potassium or supplements. Severe drop of potassium requires prompt treatment with compound that contains potassium and that is administered intravenously.
Hyperpotassemia is a condition in which the level of potassium exceeds 5.0 mEq/L. If potassium ranges from 5.1 to 6.0 mEq/L the condition is known as moderate hyperpotassemia and if the level of potassium is above 7mEq/L this is severe hyperpotassemia. Hyperpotassemia can be fatal if not corrected promptly.
Potassium generally enters the cells and stays in them. In case of damage of any kind, large amounts of potassium are released into the blood stream and its level significantly rises. Apart from cellular damage the level of potassium increases in diabetic ketoacidosis.
The symptoms of hyperpotassemia include muscle weakness, nausea, fatigue and tingling sensation. In severe cases there is a chance of a slow heart rate and a weak pulse. Similarly to hypopotassemia, hyperpotassemia is easily confirmed by a blood test. In case hyperpotassemia is induced by certain medications the level of potassium can be brought under control once the drug intake is discontinued. There are several more medications administered intravenously that can correct elevated levels of potassium and they include insulin, sodium bicarbonate, calcium salts, dextrose, sodium polystyrene sulfonate and diuretics.