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Blood Potassium Levels

Low Potassium (Hypokalemia): (Ref. The Merck Manual of Health Aging)
A slight but continuous decrease in the potassium level (low potassium levels) over a period of time causes the body to produce less insulin. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood may increase. If the potassium level becomes very low, fatigue, confusion, and muscle weakness and cramps typically occur. A very low potassium level may even cause paralysis and abnormal and irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

The causes of hypokalemia can include diarrhea and vomiting, some types of diuretics (drugs that remove water from the body through urine), overuse of laxatives, diabetes and certain kidney diseases.
Caution: Use of potassium supplements can be dangerous unless monitored closely by your doctor. When potassium is used with medications such as ACE inhibitors, there is a risk of developing a high level of potassium (Hyperkalemia)
High Potassium (Hyperkalemia): (Ref. The Merck Manual of Health Aging)
A high potassium level (hyperkalemia) is much more dangerous than a low potassium level.
It is often the result of kidney failure or use of drugs that reduce the amount of potassium excreted by the kidneys. When a person who takes one of these blood pressure lowering drugs also eats potassium-rich foods or takes a potassium supplement, the kidneys cannot always excrete the potassium. In such cases, the potassium level in the blood can increase rapidly.

The first symptom of a high potassium level may be an abnormal heart rhythm. When doctors suspect a high potassium level, electrocardiography (ECG) may help with the diagnosis. This procedure can detect changes in the heart's rhythm that occur when the potassium level is high.

People with a high potassium level must stop eating potassium-rich foods and stop taking potassium salts. (for eg. meat, poultry and fish, bananas, spinach, orange and orange juice, canteloupe, avocado, prunes, tomatoes, vegetable juices and many more. Talk to your dietitian about these foods and nutrient rich alternatives.)

If the heart rhythm is abnormal, calcium is given intravenously. This treatment can help protect the heart.
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