What is potassium?

Potassium is an electrolyte, a substance that conducts electricity in the body, along with sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium.  Potassium is crucial to heart function and plays a key role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, making it important for normal digestive and muscular function.  A potassium test measures the amount of potassium in the blood and can help to determine whether your potassium levels are within normal limits.

Why test potassium?

Unless this is ordered as a retest or for a specific reason, we recommend ordering this as part of a health test.

Health check
Discover your risk factors for lifestyle diseases in time to do something about them.

Lifestyle factors
You eat a diet low in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans and high in sodium and processed foods.

Monitor changes to your blood values as you make lifestyle changes, and take supplements or medication.

You take a drug, such as NSAIDs, that increases the need for potassium.

What causes low potassium?

Low potassium (hypokalaemia) can be caused by vomiting, diarrhea, some medications, such as corticosteroids, and certain health conditions. Decreased urinary potassium levels can be caused by drugs such as NSAIDs, beta-blockers and lithium, as well as by the adrenal glands producing too little aldosterone.

What causes high potassium?

High potassium levels (hyperkalemia) can be caused by a high intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as by certain health conditions and medications. Diabetes, kidney disease, infection, and dehydration can all cause high serum potassium, as can potassium supplements and medications such as NSAIDs, ACE inhibitors, and beta-blockers. 

Urine levels should also be considered. High urinary potassium can be caused by, among other things, kidney disease, eating disorders, and muscle damage.

More information

A variety of circumstances can falsely elevate potassium. These include the way a test is collected and processed. Clenching and relaxing the fist during the test can falsely elevate potassium. Delaying blood samples or rough handling can cause potassium to leak from blood cells. If the results are abnormal, a healthcare practitioner may suggest repeating the test.

No advance preparation is needed for this test.

On the day of the test
Remember to take I.D. with you when going to take a test. Arrive early and sit down quietly for 15 minutes before the test is taken.

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