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    Old 11-10-2004, 03:16 PM   #1
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    Keep taking the potassium?

    Recently seen for PAC's - had an echo, no problems found. I'm 54, female, on meds for blood pressure and cholesterol and both well controlled. My doctor had me start taking some potassium, the blood test showed it a little below normal. Next test, it was in normal range. My question is: do I keep taking this supplement indefinitely? How do I know if I should stop taking it? Can you have too much? The PACs are greatly improved so is this "fixed" for now, or can the diuretic medication that I take put me back in the low potassium group again? I had taken the HCTZ about 4 years before this low potassium problem came up. Doc is hard to reach by phone - wish she had email - that's why I'm asking here. Anyone have some expertise on this? Thanks!

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    Old 11-10-2004, 06:23 PM   #2
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    Re: Keep taking the potassium?

    Hi Gatormom,

    HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide) is one of 3 types of diuretics:
    loop, potassium-sparing and thiazide. I have read that it does cause an excess depletion of potassium, but it is not nearly as severe as the loop type of diuretics, such as lasix, when it comes to the depletion of potassium.

    If you continue to take the hctz, I would continue the potassium supplements ONLY if the doctor was monitoring my blood potassium level. I wouldn't stop tommorrow, or immediately, or before speaking with your doctor. If you were to start eating lots of foods high in potassium, while taking these supplements, you could develop hyperkalemia. Remember that many salt substitutes have lots of potassium.

    It took you a while to get low on potassium, so you could get high fairly fast with these supplements. Remember that I just have read about this and have no personal experience with it. I do suspect I am having trouble with too much potassium, due to the heart medications that I am taking. I had a blood test today, but forgot to ask the doc to check my potassium level Glad your PVC's are better Here is some info.

    Symptoms of hyperkalemia:
    Tingling, numbness, or other unusual sensations
    Difficulty breathing


    What is it?
    Hypokalemia is a low level of potassium in the blood. Potassium is an electrolyte that is important to the function of the nerve and muscle cells, including the heart. (May also be spelled hypokalaemia.)

    Who gets it?
    Hypokalemia is most common in people with diseases that affect kidney function, people who take diuretics, and people with eating disorders.

    What causes it?
    Most of the body’s potassium is stored inside various cells and organs, with only a small amount found in the blood. The body maintains a balance of potassium in the blood by matching the amount of potassium taken in with the amount excreted (put out) by the kidneys. Hypokalemia occurs when the body releases too much potassium, such as through severe vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating during intense exercise. It also can be caused by a disease that affects kidney function – the kidneys may excrete too much potassium, or may not be able to match their output to the body’s potassium intake. Diseases that can cause hypokalemia include Liddle’s syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, Fanconi’s syndrome, and Bartter’s syndrome. Certain drugs called diuretics increase the body’s urine output, which can also cause hypokalemia. Hypokalemia can be caused by overuse of laxatives; by eating disorders such as bulimia, which involves self-induced vomiting; and by prolonged fasting and starvation. Although it is less likely, hypokalemia can also be caused by not eating enough foods that contain potassium, and by eating too much licorice.

    What are the symptoms?
    Symptoms of hypokalemia include irregular heartbeat, which can range from mild to severe. Severe cases can result in cardiac arrest and paralysis of the lungs. Other symptoms can include muscle weakness, cramping, or flaccid paralysis (limpness); leg discomfort; extreme thirst; frequent urination; and confusion. Infants and young children with gastrointestinal illnesses that cause prolonged vomiting and diarrhea can die from cardiac arrest when potassium levels become dangerously low.

    How is it diagnosed?
    Hypokalemia is diagnosed by measuring the potassium levels in a blood sample. Normal blood potassium levels are 3.5 to 5.0 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L) of blood. A patient with hypokalemia will have a blood potassium level lower than 3.5 mEq/L. To determine the cause of hypokalemia, your doctor may also check potassium levels in a urine sample. The doctor may also order a test called an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which measures the electrical activity of the heart.

    What is the treatment?
    Sever hypokalemia is treated in a hospital with intravenous (IV) potassium. In most cases, however, this condition can be treated by increasing the amounts of potassium-rich foods in the diet, drinking electrolyte replacement fluids during intense exercise or for severe vomiting or diarrhea, or by taking a potassium supplement in a dosage recommended by your doctor. It is important to have the potassium levels in the blood checked regularly if you are taking diuretics or other medications that affect potassium.

    Self-care tips
    If you have a disease that affects kidney function or are taking drugs that affect how much potassium the kidneys release, it is important to eat foods that are high in potassium. Potassium is found in many foods such as bananas, oranges, tomatoes, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, melons, peas and beans, and potatoes.

    Old 11-10-2004, 06:39 PM   #3
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    Re: Keep taking the potassium?

    Thanks, jack51 for taking time to answer. Good information. I do think I'll try to leave a message and get a little more detail from the doctor.
    Have a great day!

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