Hypokalemia - Overview
Potassium - low; Low blood potassium
Definition of Hypokalemia:
Hypokalemia is a lower-than-normal amount of potassium in the blood.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
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:
- Antibiotics (penicillin, nafcillin, carbenicillin, gentamicin, amphotericin B, foscarnet)
- Diarrhea (including the use of too many laxatives, which can cause diarrhea)
- Diseases that affect the kidneys' ability to retain potassium (Liddle syndrome, Cushing syndrome, hyperaldosteronism, Bartter syndrome, Fanconi syndrome)
- Diuretic medications, which can cause excess urination
- 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)
- Magnesium deficiency
- Reviewed last on: 5/29/2011
- David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Mount DB, Zandi-Nejad K. Disorders of potassium balance. In: Brenner BM, ed. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 15.
Seifter JL. Potassium disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 118.
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