This article deals with hypokalemia pathophysiology, which involves studying the effects of hypokalemia on the body. Examination of the symptoms helps determine proper treatment for the disease. Scroll down to know the causes and symptoms of potassium deficiency and how it is treated.
Pathophysiology of a disease involves studying the symptoms and progress of the disease. This in turn helps diagnose the disease. It also helps determine the proper treatment of the disease. Hypokalemia is the term used to describe low potassium levels in the body. Hypokalemia pathophysiology involves studying the impact of low potassium levels on the body. If you are interested in knowing how development and progress of hypokalemia affects your body, and how the changes can be treated or reversed, take a look at the common causes and symptoms of potassium deficiency, listed below.
- Inadequate intake of potassium through diet, starvation
- Eating disorders leading to electrolyte deficiencies
- Gastrointestinal problems like pancreatic fistulas and the presence of adenoma
- Stomach disorders like diarrhea, vomiting, etc.
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of fluid due to surgical procedures
- Hypomagnesemia (low magnesium levels) because magnesium promotes processing of potassium
- Intake of certain medicines leads to excessive loss of potassium through the urine
- Some studies have shown that those who consume colas in large quantity (4 – 10 L/day) are likely to develop potassium deficiency.
- Diseases and disorders like diabetic ketoacidosis, alkalosis, abnormally high aldosterone levels, Bartter syndrome, renal failure, and certain hereditary defects can affect the levels of blood potassium.
While studying the hypokalemia pathophysiology, one needs to know the functions of potassium in the body. For example, potassium plays an important role in muscle and nerve activities. Low potassium levels can exhibit several symptoms. Mild hypokalemia can be however asymptomatic.
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Muscle pain or muscle cramps
- Functioning of the skeletal muscles gets affected
- Arrhythmia, abnormal heart rhythm
- Muscle weakness, breakdown of muscle fiber
- Flaccid paralysis and hyporeflexia (below normal or absent reflexes) in severe cases
- Excessive tiredness, fatigue
- Anxiety, confusion and increased irritability
- Rhabdomyolysis (breaking down of damaged skeletal muscle)
- Breathing difficulty due to weakened muscles, difficulty sleeping
- Constipation due to affected function of smooth muscles
- Acne, skin dryness and various other skin problems
Pathophysiology of hypokalemia helps to determine the course of treatment. To design proper treatment for low potassium levels, the doctor needs to first find out the exact cause of the disorder. The treatment may vary from person to person, depending upon the cause and severity of the symptoms. If medicines are the cause of low potassium, then the doctor can change the medicines. The doctor can prescribe a potassium sparing diuretic. Treating the vomiting and diarrhea, following potassium-rich diet, and taking oral potassium chloride supplements can help in improving the condition.
Leafy green vegetables, apples, tomatoes, lentils, cabbage, citrus fruits, strawberries, and bananas, are some examples of potassium-rich foods. In case of severe hypokalemia (potassium levels less than 3.0 mEq/L), the patient may need to have intravenous (IV) supplementation of potassium, along with oral supplementation too. If potassium is supplied to the body at a very high speed, it may lead to ventricular tachycardia. So supplementation, especially the IV rate, needs to be monitored by the doctor properly.
If potassium deficiency is caused by some other diseases or disorder in the body, then the doctor would treat that underlying disease. This, in turn would help raise the potassium levels in the body. It should be noted that every human body is different. Diseases do not always exhibit the same symptoms. In any case, pathophysiology helps determine proper treatment for the diseases and disorders. Doctors try to minimize the adverse effects of a disease by studying the causes, symptoms, and progress of the disease.