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What Is the Connection between Hypokalemia and Alkalosis?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Alkalosis is a complication associated with hypokalemia. A condition defined by a great potassium deficiency, hypokalemia can contribute to a buildup of alkali in the body resulting in alkalosis. Treatment for hypokalemia involves the administration of supplemental potassium to restore balance. If hypokalemia-related alkalosis occurs and potassium levels remain low, kidney failure can occur. If left untreated, hypokalemia and alkalosis can be fatal.

A diagnosis of hypokalemia and alkalosis is generally confirmed with a blood panel. Markers indicative of low potassium can prompt additional testing to assess creatinine, hormone, and calcium levels. Urinalysis may also be performed to evaluate kidney function. If alkalosis is suspected, a test to evaluate arterial blood gas may also be ordered.

Potassium is a key mineral used by the body to maintain muscle and bone health. For instance, potassium is required for maintaining muscle tone, strength, and flexibility. When muscles receive insufficient potassium, they can cramp, spasm, and deteriorate. Under normal circumstances, potassium levels are regulated by hormones and kept in balance by the kidneys, which usher excess minerals from the body as waste.

When alkalosis occurs, the individual has excess alkali in his or her body that is compromising the kidneys’ ability to filter waste. The lack of potassium places the kidneys under additional stress that further hinders the organs’ ability to function. Similarly, since potassium plays a pivotal role in muscle health, the heart may also suffer damage in the wake of prolonged potassium deficiency.

Several factors can contribute to hypokalemic symptoms. The continuous use of laxatives and diuretics over the long term can deplete the body of potassium and keep its levels well below normal. Eating disorders and medical conditions affecting kidney and bowel function may also initiate hypokalemic symptoms. Individuals with mild hypokalemia may remain asymptomatic, meaning they are unaware they are ill, if the loss of potassium is minimal.

Symptoms generally coincide with a significant drop in potassium levels. Someone with hypokalemia and alkalosis can become easily fatigued and experience impaired muscle function. Individuals also experience lightheadedness, nausea, pronounced muscle spasms and, in some cases, confusion.

Mild cases of hypokalemia are usually treated with supplemental potassium over the short term. Individuals with hypokalemia and alkalosis are considered at significant risk for complications, including paralysis, and are usually placed on higher doses of potassium over the long term. Generally, with proper treatment, individuals with hypokalemia and alkalosis make a full recovery. If one’s condition is considered severe, he or she may develop arrhythmia or irreversible kidney damage.

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Discussion Comments

By anon264999 — On Apr 30, 2012

I would like to know how long you have to be deficient for it to be considered "long term"?

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