Potassium is one of the most important ions in the human body and is required for the functioning of the cells, especially nerve cells and muscle cells. Potassium reaches the body through food and in order to keep the proper balance in the body, kidneys remove the excess of potassium. Potassium is responsible for various biological conditions and it is required for insulin secretion, creatine phosphorylation, carbohydrate metabolism, and protein synthesis. The major determinant of muscular and neuronal excitability is the ratio of intracellular to extracellular potassium.
Any changes in the amount of potassium pumped in and out of the cells can have a profound effect on the plasma levels. Most often, the changes in the body are silent and individuals fail to identify the symptoms of the problems caused by any changes in the potassium level.
Hypokalemia is one of the most commonly encountered fluid and electrolyte abnormalities and it is defined as a condition which occurs when the potassium level in the blood becomes too low. Potassium deficiency can be a serious disorder as it is associated with various complications. It alters the functioning of various organs and usually, it affects the cardiovascular system, neurologic system, muscles, and kidneys.
There are various causes of hypokalemia and the most common cause of hypokalemia is excessive loss of potassium in urine due to the consumption of certain medicines that increases urination. Some other causes of hypokalemia include chronic kidney disease, diarrhea, excessive sweating, folic acid deficiency and many more.
Some of the complications that are associated with potassium deficiency are as follows:
1. Diabetes Mellitus
Diabetes mellitus is one of the major health concern throughout the world and it is defined as a condition in which the glucose level in the blood becomes too high. The pancreas in the body produces hormone insulin that is responsible for regulating the glucose level in the body. Diabetes mellitus occurs when the pancreas fails to produce sufficient insulin or when the body fails to use the produced insulin effectively.
Hypokalemia or potassium deficiency impairs insulin release and end organ sensitivity to insulin. This impairment leads to an increased risk of developing diabetes in patients who are healthy and in patients who are diabetic, potassium deficiency can worsen the symptoms of diabetes mellitus.
Rhabdomyolysis is a life threatening disorder that can occur from a variety of causes and one of the cause is hypokalemia. It is a muscular related disorder that is characterized by the breakdown of skeletal muscle due to the release of intracellular contents in the circulatory system.
Hypokalemia can cause several muscle related disorders and rhabdomyolysis is one of them. It can hyperpolarize the cells of the muscles and impairs the ability to depolarization which is essential for muscle contraction. Hypokalemia triggers symptoms such as muscle weakness, easy fatigability, and cramping.
Polyuria is a common condition that is characterized by excessive or abnormal production or passage of urine and it is commonly associated with uncontrolled diabetes. Polyuria is one of the complications of hypokalemia and it is associated with increased thirst and mild nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Hypokalemia impairs the ability of the kidney to concentrate the urine maximally. Hypokalemia leads to defective activation of renal adenylate cyclase and preventing antidiuretic hormone stimulated urinary concentration.
Alkalosis is one of the frequently occurring acid base disorder and it is defined as an increased arterial pH and an increase in serum bicarbonate. It is a common disorder and most of the patients can tolerate mild alkalosis but severe alkalosis can have a major effect on the quality of life of an individual.
Due to the effects of hypokalemia on multiple components of renal acid base regulation, it can profoundly affect acid base homeostasis. Hypokalemia can have wide effects on renal acid base homeostasis due to intracellular acidification.
5. Renal cystic disease
Renal cystic disease is defined as a group of disorders that are characterized by the presence of many cysts in the kidneys. It comprises of a wide spectrum of hereditary, acquired and developmental condition. A renal cystic disease is one of the common cause of end stage renal disease in adults.
Hypokalemia is closely related to the development of renal cystic disease and is one of the common cause of the development of the cysts in the kidneys. Usually, cysts arise in the collecting duct epithelium and is linked to interstitial scarring. Hypokalemia leads to an increased ammoniagenesis and medullary ammonia accumulation.
6. Hepatic encephalopathy
Hepatic encephalopathy is a severe neuropsychiatric complication of acute and chronic liver disease. The severity of the liver disease increases the likelihood of developing this disease. Hypokalemia or potassium deficiency is another disorder that contributes to the development of this disease and it worsens the symptoms that are associated with hepatic encephalopathy.