Have you been experiencing muscle cramps after playing your favorite sports? Or have you been experiencing occasional palpitations? If YES, you might be experiencing some electrolytes problem in your body. One electrolyte that might cause the above problems is potassium.
What is the normal potassium range?
Potassium is important in the body. It has a role in regulating the activities of the skeletal muscles and the cardiac muscles. Majority of potassium (about 98%) is found inside the cells and 2% of it is found outside. It is constantly moving in and out of the cells through the influence of sodium-potassium pump.
The main excretion site of potassium is through the kidneys (80%), though it can be excreted through the bowel and sweat. The kidneys regulate potassium excretion and still could eliminate the said electrolyte even if there is a deficiency in the body.
The normal range of potassium is 3.5 – 5 mEq/L. Minor alteration in potassium level in the body could mean danger. Potassium imbalances can be affected by many factors such as injuries, various diseases, special treatments like chemotherapy and some medications like diuretics, antibiotics and laxatives.
A potassium level lower than 3.5 is called hypokalemia. Common causes of hypokalemia are: diuretic therapy, vomiting, gastric suction, diarrhea and metabolic alkalosis. Severe hypokalemia can cause cardiac and respiratory arrest which can lead to death if not properly managed. Symptoms of hypokalemia are as follows: weakness, leg cramps, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, numbness of extremities (paresthesias), decreased bowel motility, and dysrhythmias.
Management of hypokalemia includes potassium replacement through oral or intravenous route. Dietary intake of potassium can also be advised. Foods rich in potassium are fruits (like banana, citrus fruits and melon), legumes, milk, whole grains and meat.
A potassium level higher than 5 is called hyperkalemia. It is often caused by medical treatments and renal problems. Hyperkalemia is less common than hypokalemia. More than 80% of hyperkalemia cases are due to chronic medication intake. Some of the common medications that can increase potassium level in the body are NSAIDs, captopril, potassium sparing diuretics, potassium chloride therapy and heparin therapy. Though less commonly experienced, hyperkalemia is the most dangerous because of its capability to cause cardiac arrest. Symptoms of hyperkalemia include skeletal muscle weakness, respiratory paralysis, speech paralysis, nausea, diarrhea, and intestinal colic.
Management of hyperkalemia includes immediate administration of Intravenous calcium gluconate. Calcium gluconate antagonizes the effects of potassium in the cardiac muscles. Insulin therapy can also lower the blood level of potassium by allowing extracellular potassium to go intra cellular. Potassium restriction is also advised so one should avoid foods high in potassium.