Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate November 2001

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Potassium is a very important body mineral, to both cellular and electrical function. Normal growth and muscle building require adequate amounts of potassium. It governs the actions of the heart, the way cell membranes work, and pathways between muscles and the brain. It caries a tiny electrical charge, making it an electrolyte. Potassium is one of the bloods main minerals. Cells contain 98% of the potassium in the body, only a small amount is found circulating in the bloodstream. Inside the cell it balances sodium outside the cell to maintain pressure and water balance in the body. Potassium performs multiple life preserving functions in the human body.

Under normal conditions an excess of potassium in the bloodstream is excreted by the kidneys, even with excessive intake. With renal failure, levels can get to high. Your kidneys are not able clear the potassium. This is the most common cause of an excess of potassium plasma levels above 5.0mEq/L

or hyperkalemia. Damaged cells can also release potassium into the bloodstream faster then the kidneys can remove it, such as infection and gastrointestinal bleeding. An excess use of salt in the diet and medications including certain diuretics can also affect blood levels. Other causes include acidosis, shock after injury, and even when people overdose on potassium supplements. Hyperkalemia is a serious condition and must be treated promptly and properly.

Signs and symptoms of hyperkalemia are often unknown by the patient experiencing an excess. They may include: GO TO BOARD. Normally hyperkalemia is discovered during a routine blood test. Hyperkalemia is a life threatening imbalance and can cause effects without warning. Primary concern is for the heart, excessive amounts of potassium can cause cardiac arrest.

Medications are used to treat the immediate problem, but more tests must be done to determine the underlying cause. Some of the medications used: GO TO BOARD. These drugs help by moving potassium from the bloodstream into the cells or by encouraging the excretion of excess potassium. If medications are not successful in lowering levels of potassium, dialysis may be recommended.

Nutrition plays a vital role in regulation of the body's functions. When trying to control hyperkalemia you should avoid and eliminate high-potassium foods, avoid alcohol, caffeine, refined foods, sugar, and saturated fats. It is equally important to drink more water, dehydration makes it worse. Eat more vegetables and small amounts of protein.

Eating a healthy diet will normally regulate potassium levels. Included should be fruits, vegetables, and whole grains high in potassium, but low in sodium. Excellent sources include bananas, oranges or orange juice, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, avocadoes, and dried beans. No specific RDA for potassium has been set, but is recommended that 1.9g-5.6g is consumed.

As a nurse we need to teach the patient the signs and symptoms and strategies for prevention. People with the potential for an imbalance require information about their disease process, the treatments they are of will receive. Patients should be informed of the importance to have their levels measured at regular intervals if they are at high risk. Listing foods which should be deleted from the diet and what can be substituted is helpful for the patient during treatment. The best course of action is to work with the patient and cater to their needs and preferences.

Potassium is an important element of life it can be an element of death.