Hypokalemia is the condition where the concentration of potassium in the bloodstream is abnormally low.  Most pottasium in the body is stored in the cells, but the concentration in the blood should be somewhere between 3.5 and 5 milliequivalents per litre of blood.

Potassium is vital for proper function of the nerves and muscles.  Slightly low potassium levels are usually asymptomatic, but can cause a slight elevation of blood pressure.  As the level drops, it can cause muscle weakness, myalgia and cramps.  Severely low levels usually results in flaccid paralysis and highly reactive reflexes followed by slowed breathing.  It can also incude rhabdomyolysis and an abnormal but characteristic EKG.

Several conditions can cause hypokalemia, including lack of potassium in the diet, severe diarrhea and excess urination.  It can also be caused by an imbalance of hormones and some pharmaceuticals.

Treatment of the condition often depends on the underlying cause, but in mild cases, potassium fortified oral fluids are usually effective.  For more severe cases, potassium infused saline can be administered intravenously.  However, care must be taken as potassium infusions can result in a burning sensation at the site of the intravenous line.

Hypokalemia at Wikipedia

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