Potassium homeostasis and clinical implications

The American Journal of Medicine
R S Brown


The clinical estimation of potassium balance generally depends on the level of serum potassium. Since the extracellular fluid contains only 2 percent of the total body potassium, it must be recognized that potassium deficits are usually large before significant hypokalemia occurs, whereas smaller surfeits of potassium will cause hyperkalemia. The total body potassium is regulated by the kidney in which distal nephron secretion of potassium into the urine is enhanced by aldosterone, alkalosis, adaptation to a high potassium diet, and delivery of increased sodium and tubular fluid to the distal tubule. However, the distribution of potassium between the intracellular and extracellular fluids can markedly affect the serum potassium level without a change in total body potassium. Cellular uptake of potassium is regulated by insulin, acid-base status, aldosterone, and adrenergic activity. Hypokalemia, therefore, may be caused by redistribution of potassium into cells due to factors that increase cellular potassium uptake, in addition to total body depletion of potassium due to renal, gastrointestinal, or sweat losses. Similarly hyperkalemia may be caused by redistribution of potassium from the intracellular to the extracellular fluid...Continue Reading


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