Intravenous potassium is an injection of potassium, a mineral that helps cells, tissues, and organs in the body function properly, administered directly into the bloodstream. Sufficient levels of potassium are essential for the heart to function. It also helps the body digest food properly, and aids in muscle function. A doctor may give a patient intravenous potassium if the individual’s levels are dangerously low.
Most people get all the potassium their bodies need through a healthy diet. Many fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats contain it. Eating a diet high in sodium can increase the amount of potassium required for proper body function, however. Other conditions and diseases, such as diarrhea, malnutrition, and Crohn’s disease, can also decrease the amount of potassium in the bloodstream.
Certain medications can affect potassium levels as well. People who take certain diuretics have a higher risk of having a potassium deficiency, a condition called hypokalemia. Corticosteroids, antacids, insulin, and laxatives may also lower potassium levels in some people. Individuals who are taking medications for fungal infections or asthma may have deficient levels as well.
Individuals with low potassium levels may experience no symptoms at all. In some cases, hypokalemia is only discovered during a routine blood test. Weakness, fatigue, cramps, constipation, and abnormal heartbeat are potential signs of hypokalemia. People experiencing these symptoms should see their doctors for a blood test to diagnose the condition, or rule it out altogether.
Many hypokalemia patients can increase their potassium levels with oral supplements. Extremely low potassium levels can be fatal. These cases are rare, but doctors are likely to treat these patients with intravenous potassium so that the heart and other organs are less likely to be in danger.
People with kidney diseases or problems may have too much potassium in their bodies, which can lead to a condition called hyperkalemia. Excess potassium can be just as dangerous as not having enough. Too much of the mineral in the body can cause cardiac arrest and decrease nerve and muscle control. Doctors must carefully monitor patients who receive intravenous potassium to make sure their levels do not get too high, especially if they have kidney problems.
Medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, migraines, diabetes, and heart disease may raise potassium levels, increasing the risk of hyperkalemia. Other drugs, such as beta blockers, some immunosuppressants, and anti-clotting medications, can also increase blood potassium amounts. Individuals who take these medications are usually not given intravenous potassium, however, unless their blood levels are low enough to be potentially fatal.