To check the amount for potassium in blood, a blood potassium test is conducted. Potassium, which is an essential mineral, required by our body also serves as an important electrolyte that helps maintain water balance of the body. Apart from this very important function, potassium is also responsible for the functioning of nerves and muscles.
Potassium levels are directly linked with the sodium levels in the body. However, this relationship is an inverse one. Therefore if the sodium levels increase, the potassium levels in the blood automatically reduce. Due to aldosterone, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, potassium levels may get affected.
Blood pH and the functioning of the kidneys are also important factors that affect blood potassium levels. Cancer treatments and certain special medications are also responsible for a decrease in potassium levels of the blood.
Usually a balanced diet is able to fulfill our potassium requirements. Foods like orange, prunes, figs, bananas and potatoes are rich sources of potassium in our body. However, sometimes even if the dietary requirements are being met, potassium is passed out from the body through the urine. If there are such abnormalities with the potassium levels, kidneys may not be functioning properly and therefore should be checked.
Abnormal levels of potassium can cause many disorders. The symptoms of deficiency of potassium are cramps, diarrhea, nausea, low blood pressure, irritability, frequent urination, confusion and even paralysis. Due to abnormal levels of potassium, irregular heartbeats can be caused.
For people who are being treated with diuretics, potassium levels are checked regularly. If there is a treatment being given to normalize the potassium levels, frequent tests are ordered to monitor the progress of the treatment. These tests are also advised for those with high blood pressure and those who are undergoing cancer treatments.
The normal levels of potassium in adults are about 3.5 to 5.0 milliequivalents per litre of blood. In children, the levels of potassium are 3.4 to 4.7 milliequivalents per liter. Any levels higher than these can cause damage to the kidneys, due to which the kidneys may not be able to excrete potassium naturally. In several other conditions, like severe burns, heart attack and diabetic ketoacidoses, potassium levels increase in the blood stream due to a spillage.
Cystic fibrosis, Cushing's syndrome and Bartter's syndrome and use of diuretics as medication are also linked with the low levels of potassium in the blood stream.