Potassium is an electrolyte that helps your cells and organs work. Your body needs it to digest food, keep your heart beating right, and various other activities. You get most of your potassium from foods. Your body uses what it needs, and your kidneys put the rest into your urine as waste.
A potassium test measures how much potassium is in the urine. Potassium levels often change with sodium levels. When sodium levels go up, potassium levels go down. When sodium levels go down, potassium levels go up. These levels are also affected by a hormone called aldosterone. This hormone is made by the adrenal glands.
Potassium levels can be affected by how the kidneys are working, the blood pH, and the amount of potassium you eat. The hormone levels in your body, severe vomiting, and taking certain medicines such as diuretics and potassium supplements can also affect the levels. Certain cancer treatments that destroy cancer cells can also raise potassium levels.
Many foods are rich in potassium. Some examples are potatoes, bananas, prunes, orange juice, and winter squash. A balanced diet has enough potassium for the body’s needs. But if your levels get low, it can take some time for your body to start holding on to potassium.
A potassium level that is too high or too low can be serious.
Too little potassium in your body is called hypokalemia. A severe loss or drop in potassium can cause:
– muscle cramps or spasms
A low level of potassium in your urine may be caused by:
– adrenal gland insufficiency
– eating disorders, such as bulimia
– excessive sweating
– excessive laxative use
– magnesium deficiency
– certain medicines
– excessive vomiting or diarrhea
– excessive alcohol use
– folic acid deficiency
– diabetic ketoacidosis
– chronic kidney disease
Having too much potassium in your body is called hyperkalemia. It can cause:
– muscle weakness
– abnormal heart rhythms
Hyperkalemia is most likely caused by acute kidney failure or chronic kidney disease.
Other causes of high potassium levels in urine include:
– acute tubular necrosis
– eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
– other kidney diseases
– low blood magnesium levels, called hypomagnesaemia
– renal tubular acidosis
– excessive use of diuretics or potassium supplements
– type 1 diabetes
– alcoholism or heavy drug use
– Addison’s disease
Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you.
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