Contributed by – Preksha Buttan
What is the potassium test?
Potassium is a type of electrolyte that is important for cell metabolism. Electrolytes are electronically charged minerals in our body that control muscle and nerve activity and maintain fluid levels along with other vital functions. We need potassium so that our heart and muscles can work properly. But, if there is any increase or decrease in the levels of potassium then that may indicate some medical problem. Hence, a potassium test is used to measure the levels of potassium in the body so that any abnormality can be detected and a timely diagnosis can be made.
Who should get tested?
Your doctor may order a potassium test as either a part of regular health screening or if you are being evaluated for any serious illness. The following conditions usually prompt a doctor to order the test:
- Kidney diseases
- Symptoms such as muscle weakness and irregular heartbeat
- Cardiovascular diseases
Why is the potassium test needed?
Potassium and other electrolytes such as sodium, bicarbonate and chloride help maintain the fluid amount in the body and keep a stable acid-base balance. Although potassium is present in all body fluids, most of it is found within the cells.
The food we eat fulfils most of our potassium needs. The body uses the ideal amount of potassium needed for its functions and any excess of it is eliminated by the kidneys through the urine. A very narrow range of the potassium levels in the blood is maintained by the body with the help of aldosterone – a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.
Now, since the potassium level in the blood is anyway so low, that even a slight change can have a significant impact on health. It can alter the nerves and muscle functions and cause some other serious complications such as breathing issues, irregular heartbeat and shock. Therefore, the potassium test is used to keep an eye on the potassium levels and detect any abnormalities before it’s too late.
What does potassium test results mean?
For an adult, normal levels of potassium in the blood are considered to be 3.5 – 5.0 mmoL/L.
However, remember that the normal range of potassium levels can vary for each age group and different labs may also have slightly varying reference ranges. Therefore, always get your test results checked by a doctor to correctly understand what they mean for you.
Nonetheless, having high potassium levels (hyperkalemia) in the blood could mean:
- Kidney disease
- Addison disease
- Injury to tissue
- Consumption of too much potassium
And, having low potassium levels (hypokalemia) could mean:
- Conn syndrome
- A diet low in potassium
How is the test done?
A small sample of your blood is needed to perform the potassium test. It is usually drawn from a vein in the arm. The test is quick and relatively painless. Any kind of special preparation, including fasting, is not required. However, it is advisable to inform your doctor about any existing medical condition you may have or medications you take regularly as they can influence your test results.
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