Electrolytes

Potassium, Serum (Kalium)

Optimal Result: 3.5 - 5.2 mmol/L.

Potassium, also called kalium, is a positively charged electrolyte that is vital to cell metabolism. It helps transport nutrients into cells and then removes waste out of them. It is also important in muscle function, helping to transmit messages between nerves and muscles, and is necessary for healthy heart functioning. Potassium levels are assessed by an electrolyte panel, which is a part of a basic or a comprehensive metabolic panel. A healthcare professional may order these tests during a routine health checkup or when someone presents specific symptoms of a condition like metabolic acidosis, an electrolyte imbalance.

Potassium plays an essential role in:

- Nerve conduction

- The maintenance of osmotic pressure

- Muscle function

- Cellular transport via the sodium-potassium pump

- Acid-base balance

The most common cause of a significantly elevated potassium level is kidney disease.

Symptoms of kidney disease include:

- Nausea/vomiting

- Fatigue

- Loss of appetite

- Muscle cramps

- Dry, itchy skin

Because small changes in potassium levels can have a big effect on the activity of nerves and muscles, it is particularly important to heart function. For this reason, potassium tests may be ordered when a person has signs of high blood pressure or cardiovascular problems (like irregular heartbeat). Potassium tests can also be useful in the diagnosis of diabetic ketoacidosis. Finally, if a person is taking prescription drugs that are known to cause potassium loss, particularly diuretics, then potassium tests can be used to monitor the effects of the drugs.

What does it mean if your Potassium, Serum (Kalium) result is too low?

Abnormally low levels of potassium, called hypokalemia, can result from:

- Diarrhea / vomiting

- Conn syndrome (=endocrine disorder)

- Diuretics

- Insufficient potassium consumption in the diet

- Cushing syndrome (=occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol for a long time)

What does it mean if your Potassium, Serum (Kalium) result is too high?

Significantly elevated potassium levels, called hyperkalemia, may be seen in conditions such as:

- Kidney disease

- Diabetes

- Dehydration

- Consuming too much potassium through diet or in intravenous fluids

- Addison disease

- Tissue injury

- Metabolic or respiratory acidosis

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