Human Nutrition 3(3+0)
Lesson 40 : Potassium


Deficiency of potassium is referred to as hypokalemia

Hypokalemia may develop:

  • during treatment of heart failure with digitalis;
  • during treatment of diabetic coma with insulin, since during the synthesis and storage of glycogen and of protein stimulated by insulin, potassium is quickly withdrawn from ECF and retained in the tissues
  • as a characteristic feature of a rare disease called ‘Familial periodic paralysis’. In this condition K is withdrawn from ECF and retained in the cells.
  • due to prolonged use of diuretics

The clinical conditions causing hypokalemia are:
Prolonged diarrhea and vomiting resulting in continued loss of digestive juices;
Over-activity of adrenal cortex (Cushing’s syndrome) which causes increased excretion of body potassium in urine, thereby causing potassium deficiency;

Symptoms: The symptoms of hypokalemia include muscular weakness, irritability, paralysis, tachycardia and dilatation of the heart with gallop rhythm and changes in ECG of the heart. In this condition, the serum potassium content is below normal. Prolonged hypokalemia is likely to cause injury to myocardium and kidneys.

Last modified: Tuesday, 14 February 2012, 10:44 AM