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Potassium is the primary electrolyte within the cell. Damaged cells release potassium into the circulation.

Potassium plays a crucial role in:

  • Acid-base balance
  • Nerve conduction
  • Muscle contraction

Potassium levels may rise in the presence of:

  • Renal failure
  • Any cell damage (trauma, burn, chemotherapy)
  • Acidosis
  • Addison's disease
  • IV Potassium Penicillin administration

Potassium levels may fall in the presence of:

  • Diarrhea
  • Diuretics
  • Renal disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Severe burns
  • Ascites

Normal Values*

Men 3.5-5.0 mEq/L 3.5-5.0 mmol/L
Women 3.5-5.0 mEq/L 3.5-5.0 mmol/L
Pregnancy 3.3-4.1 mEq/L 3.3-4.1 mmol/L

Potassium levels less than 2.6 or greater than 6.4 are associated with potentially fatal cardiac arrythmias

*These are general values taken from a variety of sources. The actual normal values may vary from lab to lab and from one type of testing protocol to another.