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Hypokalemia is one of the most common water-electrolyte imbalances and affects about 20% of patients admitted to the hospital medical surgical services and about 40% of patients admitted to intensive care units.
The most common causes of hypokalemia defined as a level below 3.5
mEq/L (3.5 mmol/L) include vomiting, diarrhea, hypomagnesemia,
diuretics such as furosemide, hyperaldosteronism, and less commonly
inadequate intake. Normal potassium levels are between 3.5 and
5.0 mEq/L. Mildly low potassium levels (3.0 to 3.5 mEq/L)
typically do not cause symptoms, however, may lead to increases in
blood pressure and provoke the development of an abnormal heart
rhythm. Moderate hypokalemia (serum potassium levels of 2.5 to 3 mEq/L (2.5 -
3.0 mmol/L), may cause muscle weakness, tiredness, myalgia, tremor,
muscle cramps, and constipation. Severe deficits leading to
serum potassium levels below 2.5 mEq/L may be life-threatening and
lead to electrocardiographic
(ECG) changes such as QRS prolongation, ST-segment and T-wave depression,
U-wave formation. The earliest (ECG) findings in patients with
hypokalemia are decreased T wave
height, followed by ST depressions and T inversions as levels
continue to fall.
The program will estimate the potassium deficit through
the use of empirically derived ranges that are based on current levels.
In addition, the following equation will be used:
Kdeficit (in mmol)=(Knormal lower limit -Kmeasured) x body weight
(kg) x 0.4
The size of the deficit is difficult
to determine because only 2% of the body's potassium is present in
the extracellular fluid.
Many factors in addition to the total
body potassium stores contribute to the serum K+ concentration so it
is possible to either underestimate or overestimate the actual
deficit. This equation also does not take into account the
daily losses/requirements of potassium that are needed in addition
to the deficit.