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Low Potassium (cont.)

Low Potassium Medical Treatment

Potassium replacement therapy will be directed by the type and severity of the patient's symptoms. Treatment begins after lab tests confirm the diagnosis.

People suspected of having severely low potassium need to be placed on a cardiac monitor and have an IV started.

Usually, those with mild or moderately low potassium levels (2.5-3.5 mEq/L), who have no symptoms, or who have only minor complaints only need to be treated with potassium given in pill or liquid form. This is preferred because it is easy to administer, safe, inexpensive, and readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Some preparations, or too high of a dose, may irritate the stomach and cause vomiting.

If cardiac arrhythmias or significant symptoms are present or if the potassium level is less than 2.5 mEq/L, IV potassium should be given. In this situation, admission or observation in the emergency department is indicated. Replacing potassium takes several hours as it must be administered very slowly intravenously to avoid serious heart problems.

For those with severely low potassium and symptoms, both IV potassium and oral medication are necessary.

Precautions:

  • When potassium is used with medications such as ACE inhibitors, there is a risk of developing a high level of potassium.
  • Potassium-sparing diuretics and potassium-containing salt substitutes can also result in high potassium levels.
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.

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