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Also known as: Potassium, Potassium (Serum), K+, K
The blood test is ordered by the doctor when he or she wants to see if the level of potassium in your body is normal or not. The test may be ordered on its own or as part of an electrolyte or metabolic panel. The test is also used to identify and determine the reason behind an electrolyte imbalance, as well as monitor the treatment plan laid for certain conditions and illnesses which lead to an abnormal amount of potassium in the body.
The test is ordered by the doctor when a patient has a routine health exam or when a patient exhibits symptoms related to abnormal levels of potassium in the body like muscle weakness, electrolyte imbalance, or irregular heartbeat. The doctor may also order the test regularly when the patient is on any kind of medication or has a disease/illness which could lead to higher levels of potassium in the body – like kidney disease or high blood pressure.
This is a blood or urine sample test. The blood test involves a sample being drawn from a vein in your arm using a syringe. The urine test requires a collection of urine in a clean, disinfected container over a period of 24 hours. The urine needs to be kept in a cool place throughout.
There is no special preparation needed for the test.
This test is used by the doctor to evaluate the levels of potassium found in the body via blood or a urine sample. Potassium is an electrolyte used by the body in the process of cell metabolism. It is crucial for this life process. Potassium aids in the process of transporting nutrients into the cell and removing waste products from the cells. The electrolyte is also essential for muscle function, as well as the transmission of messages between the nerves and the muscles. Electrolytes are minerals that carry a charge and are found in the fluids present in the body.
Potassium, alongside other electrolytes found in the body like chloride, sodium, and bicarbonate, works to regulate the levels of fluid found in the body and maintain the pH levels of the body. Potassium is a component of all fluids in the cell, but it is mostly found in the cells. Potassium is present in fluids in small amounts outside the cells and constitutes a small part of the liquid (plasma) found in the blood. Potassium is present in the food we eat in small amounts. Typically, most people have an adequate intake of potassium. The body makes use of the potassium it needs, and the rest of the potassium is eliminated by the kidneys in the urine. The body regulates the amount of potassium found in the body by keeping it within a very narrow range. The levels of potassium are controlled by a hormone produced by the adrenal gland known as aldosterone. The adrenal gland is found near the kidneys.
Minor changes in the blood concentration level of potassium lead to serious health effects. Abnormal levels – too high or too low – can change how the nerves and muscles function, leading to severe health complications like breathing problems, shock, irregular heartbeat. When potassium levels are assessed as part of an electrolyte or metabolic panel, the test results may aid in diagnosing an electrolyte imbalance or conditions related to abnormal acid-base balance like alkalosis and acidosis. Acidosis and alkalosis occur due to an imbalance in the blood due to an excessive amount of alkali or acid. The imbalance is typically linked to disease or an underlying condition.
The test is used by the doctor to identify abnormal levels of potassium in the body ranging from hyperkalemia (high potassium levels) and hypokalemia (low potassium levels). The test is normally part of an electrolyte or basic metabolic panel used in a routine health exam. The test is used by the doctor to:
  • Identify, evaluate, and assess electrolyte or acid-base imbalances
  • Evaluate and monitor a range of chronic or acute illnesses like kidney disease and high blood pressure – two conditions commonly linked to high blood potassium
  • Detect abnormal values when the patient has diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive sweating
  • Determine the root cause of conditions afflicting the heart
  • Monitor the effect of drugs that can cause a decrease in potassium levels in the kidneys due to diuretics or other drugs which reduce the ability of the body to eliminate potassium
The levels of potassium in the urine may also be tested when the patient has abnormal levels of potassium in order to help determine the reason why they are low such as in the case of dehydration. Urine testing is also helpful for people who have abnormal kidney tests, as they aid the doctor in identifying the cause of kidney disease and chart out treatment plans.
The test is ordered by the doctor as part of a regular health exam or when the patient is being evaluated for a severe illness. It is ordered when:
  • The patient has kidney disease
  • The patient has symptoms such as muscle weakness or irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia)
  • The patient has a condition that is being treated with diuretics or heart medications
  • The patient with high blood pressure (hypertension) is being treated for high blood pressure
  • The doctor is diagnosing diabetic ketoacidosis or kidney disease
  • The doctor is monitoring a patient on dialysis
  • The doctor is monitoring a patient receiving diuretic therapy or intravenous fluids
Urine testing for potassium is ordered when the levels of potassium in the blood are abnormal.
Potassium test results are interpreted in conjunction with other tests carried out at the time. Low and high potassium levels indicate varying conditions and diseases. Low potassium levels, also known as hypokalemia, occur due to
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Primary hyperaldosteronism (Conn syndrome)
  • A complication of acetaminophen overdose
  • Diabetes - potassium levels may fall after insulin has been injected, particularly if diabetes has not been managed well
  • As a side-effect of "water pills" (potassium-wasting diuretics); if the patient takes these, the doctor may order potassium tests at regular intervals
  • Use of certain drugs such as corticosteroids, beta-adrenergic agonists such as isoproterenol, alpha-adrenergic antagonists such as clonidine, antibiotics such as gentamicin and carbenicillin, and the antifungal agent amphotericin B
High potassium levels, also known as hyperkalemia, occur due to:
  • Kidney disease
  • Addison disease
  • Injury to tissue
  • Infection
  • Diabetes
  • Dehydration
  • Consuming too much potassium (e.g., diets high in potassium, potassium supplements)
  • Treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids, excessive IV potassium
  • Using certain drugs that cause high potassium in a small percent of people, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers (such as propranolol and atenolol), angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (such as captopril, enalapril, and lisinopril), and potassium-sparing diuretics (such as triamterene, amiloride, and spironolactone)
Potassium levels in the urine are compared to blood potassium levels. Since the body eliminates the excess potassium, the levels may be higher in the urine when it is elevated in the blood. They may also be higher when the body is eliminating too much potassium – the blood level, in this case, is low or normal. If the levels of potassium are low in the blood due to poor intake, then levels of potassium in the urine will also be lower. High levels of potassium in the urine occur due to:
  • Kidney disease
  • Eating disorders like anorexia
  • Muscle damage
Low levels of potassium are due to
  • Use of drugs like NSAIDs, beta-blockers, lithium
  • Low levels of aldosterone
Related Tests: Chloride, Sodium, Bicarbonate (Total CO2), Electrolytes, and Anion Gap, Basic Metabolic Panel, (BMP), Comprehensive Metabolic Panel ( CMP blood test ), Aldosterone and Renin
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