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Conditions of Potassium Imbalance
Hyperkalemia (hyper=too much + kal=potassium + emia=in the blood) is a potentially life-threatening situation because it causes abnormal electrical conduction in the heart and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems. High potassium levels are most often associated with kidney failure, in which potassium levels build up and cannot be excreted in the urine. Medications can be used to lower potassium levels until the kidneys are able to excrete the excess in the urine. However, emergency dialysis may be required to remove the potassium if kidney function is poor.
Hypokalemia (hypo=too little) is most often seen when the body loses too much potassium from causes like vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and medications like diuretics or laxatives. It is often seen in diabetic ketoacidosis, where potassium is excessively lost in the urine. Since chemicals in the body are related in their metabolism, low magnesium levels can be associated with hypokalemia.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/30/2014
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