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What is it?
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. The most common cause of a significantly elevated potassium level is kidney disease. Symptoms of kidney disease include:
-Loss of appetite
-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.
3.6 - 5 mmol/L
What are low values associated with?
Abnormally low levels of potassium, called hypokalemia, can result from:
-Diarrhea / vomiting
-Insufficient potassium consumption in the diet
What are high values associated with?
Significantly elevated potassium levels, called hyperkalemia, may be seen in conditions such as:
-Consuming too much potassium through diet or in intravenous fluids
-Metabolic or respiratory acidosis