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Low Potassium (cont.)

Low Potassium Causes

Low potassium can occur for many reasons. Use of water pills (diuretics), diarrhea, and chronic laxative abuse are the most common causes of low potassium levels.

Illness and other medications may also lower potassium levels. Woman and African-Americans are at higher risk of developing hypokalemia.

Other causes of hypokalemia include:

Kidney losses

  • Certain kidney disorders such as renal tubular acidosis (for example, chronic kidney failure and acute kidney failure)
  • Magnesium deficiency
  • Leukemia
  • Cushing's disease (and other adrenal disorders)

Loss of potassium through stomach and intestines

  • Vomiting
  • Enemas or excessive laxative use
  • Diarrhea
  • After ileostomy operation

Effect of medicines

  • Water pills (diuretics)
  • Medicines used for asthma or emphysema (beta-adrenergic agonist type of drugs such as bronchodilators, steroids, or theophylline)
  • Aminoglycosides (a type of antibiotic used for treating certain serious infections)

Shifting of potassium into and out of cells can lower the concentration of potassium measured in the blood.

  • Use of insulin
  • Certain metabolic states (such as alkalosis)

Decreased food intake or malnutrition

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/27/2014

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Hypokalemia »

Potassium, the most abundant intracellular cation, is essential for the life of the organism.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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