Hypokalemia

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Definition

Hypokalemia is a lower-than-normal amount of potassium in the blood.


Causes

Potassium is needed for cells, especially nerve and muscle cells, to function properly. You get potassium through food. The kidneys remove excess potassium in the urine to keep a proper balance of the mineral in the body.

Hypokalemia is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the level of potassium in the blood drops too low.

Possible causes of hypokalemia include :
  • Certain antibiotics (carbenicillin, gentamicin, amphotericin B)
  • Certain drugs, called diuretics, that can cause excess urination
  • Diarrhea (including the use of too many laxatives, which can cause diarrhea)
  • Diseases that affect the kidney's ability to retain potassium (for example, Liddle syndrome, Cushing syndrome, hyperaldosteronism, Bartter syndrome, Fanconi syndrome)
  • Eating disorders (such as bulimia)
  • Eating large amounts of licorice or using products such as herbal teas and chewing tobaccos that contain licorice made with glycyrrhetinic acid (this substance is no longer used in licorice made in the United States)
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Symptoms

A small drop in potassium usually doesn't cause symptoms. However, a big drop in the level can be life threatening.

Symptoms of hypokalemia include :
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (dysrhythmias), especially in people with heart disease
  • Breakdown of muscle fibers (rhabdomyolysis)
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness or spasms
  • Paralysis (which can include the lungs)

Source : www.nlm.nih.gov

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