Last Updated on August 2, 2022 by Dr. Neeraj Gujar
A potassium test is used to determine the level of potassium in your blood. Potassium is an electrolyte. Electrolytes, which are electrically charged minerals found in the body, help to control nerve activity and fluid levels, and other important functions. Potassium is essential for proper heart and muscle function. Even small changes in potassium levels can cause serious health problems.
If you suspect that you may have an electrolyte imbalance, or as part of routine checkups, your doctor might order a potassium test.
Potassium can be used as an electrolyte. When they are in solution, electrolytes transform into ions and conduct electricity. To function properly, our cells and organs need electrolytes.
A potassium test is a simple blood test that has few side effects and risks. A laboratory will analyze the blood sample. The results will be reviewed by your doctor.
Why Test Is Done?
A routine series of blood tests known as an electrolyte panel will often include a potassium blood test. This test can also be used to diagnose or monitor conditions that may result in abnormal potassium levels. These conditions include kidney diseases, high cholesterol, or heart disease.
A potassium test is usually performed as part of a basic metabolism panel. This is a grouping of chemical tests that are run on your blood serum.
A potassium test may be ordered by your doctor during routine physicals or for any other reason, such as:
- Monitoring or checking for a low level of a particular nutrient
- Diagnosing and monitoring kidney disease
- Monitoring certain medications that can affect potassium levels, especially diuretics, heart medication, and high blood pressure medications.
- Check for metabolic acidosis (when your kidneys don’t remove enough acid or the body produces too much acid, such as in diabetes care that’s not well managed).
- High blood pressure and heart disease can be diagnosed
- Finding the root cause of paralysis
- Alkalosis is a condition where the body fluids are too alkali.
This test will tell you if your potassium levels are normal.
Also Read: Renal Function Test: How it is used to Diagnose Kidney Diseases
When To Get Tested?
A potassium blood test may be ordered by your doctor as part of a regular checkup. It could also be used to monitor a condition like diabetes, or kidney disease. This test may be required if you experience symptoms of too much or too low potassium.
Symptoms of high potassium levels are –
- Irregular Heart Rhythms
- Paralysis in arms and legs
Symptoms of low potassium levels are –
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Muscle cramps
How To Get Tested?
A potassium blood test or electrolyte panel does not require any special preparations. Fasting may be required if your doctor has ordered additional blood sample tests.
Your doctor may ask you to stop taking any medication that could cause adverse effects on the test results. If there are special instructions, your health care provider will inform you.
During the Test
A small needle is used by a health professional to take blood from a vein on your arm. Once the needle has been inserted, some blood will be taken and stored in a vial or test tube. The needle may cause a slight stinging sensation when it is inserted or removed.
The potassium test can be performed as with other routine blood tests.
Antiseptic will be used to clean a site on your arm that is usually located at the inside of your elbow or back of your hand. To increase blood flow, your healthcare professional will place a band around the upper arm.
The needle will be inserted into your vein. The needle may cause a sensation of stinging or prickling. The blood will be collected in a tube. After the needle and band are removed, the site will be wrapped in a small bandage.
It usually takes just a few minutes.
After The Test
A blood test is not a risky procedure. Side effects and risks of a potassium test are similar to any other routine blood test. Sometimes, it may be difficult for your healthcare provider to enter a vein. In rare instances, people report:
You also have a chance of infection if your skin is damaged.
Potassium is essential for normal body function. It is essential for the normal functioning of nerves and muscle cells.
The normal potassium level ranges between 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles/liter. You should note that different laboratories might use different values. Ask your doctor for a specific interpretation.
Potassium levels in the blood are so tiny that even small increases or decreases can cause serious health problems.
Hypokalemia is characterized by low potassium levels
Lower than normal levels of potassium could be caused by:
- Too little potassium in your diet
- Use of diuretics
- Chronic diarrhea, vomiting, gastrointestinal problems
- Excessive laxative use
- Folic acid deficiency
- Excessive sweating
- An overdose of Acetaminophen
- Certain medications, like corticosteroids and some antibiotics, as well as antifungals, may be restricted.
- Chronic kidney disease
- Diabetes, especially after insulin treatment
- Hyperaldosteronism is when the adrenal gland releases too many hormones such as aldosterone.
- Cushing’s Syndrome (when you are exposed to high levels of cortisol or certain steroid hormones).
Hyperkalemia is characterized by high potassium levels
Life-threatening levels of blood potassium can reach 7.0 millimoles/liter or more.
Also Read: Liver Function Test: When & Why It Shall Be Done
There are many reasons why your body may have higher than normal levels of potassium. These are:
- Too much potassium in your diet, or taking potassium supplements
- Receiving a blood transfusion
- Red blood cell damage due to severe injury/burns
- Tissue injury that causes the breakdown of muscle fibers
- Type 1 diabetes
- Some medications may be taken, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), beta-blockers, ACE enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs), angiotensin II receptor blocking (ARBs), diuretics, and beta-blockers.
- Respiratory acidosis is a condition in which the lungs are unable to remove carbon dioxide from the body. This causes fluids to become too acidic.
- Metabolic acidosis is when the body produces too many acids or the kidneys don’t have enough acid to remove them.
- Addison’s disease (when adrenal glands stop producing enough hormones).
- Kidney disease
- Hypoaldosteronism is a condition in which the hormone aldosterone is deficient or not functioning correctly.
False results can be obtained from a potassium test during collection and processing. For example, if you relax or clench your fish, it may impact potassium levels.
The possibility of potassium leaking out of cells could be caused by a delay in transporting the sample or shaking it.
Your doctor may have to repeat the test if they suspect a false result.
Your results may not be in the normal range. This does not necessarily mean you have a medical condition that requires treatment. Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines can increase your potassium levels while eating lots of licorice could lower them. Talk to your doctor about your results.
What To Do in Case of Abnormal Results?
Your diet should contain enough potassium. The amount of potassium you need depends on your gender, age, and other health factors. These are some excellent sources of potassium in your diet:
- Swiss chard
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Sweet potatoes and white potatoes (especially their skins)
- Pinto beans
Also Read: How Do Doctors Use Iron Test to Diagnose Anemia or Hemochromatosis?
A potassium test is an extremely common test that checks electrolyte levels. You can order it as part of routine physicals or diagnose specific conditions.
Discuss with your doctor if you may be able to benefit from a potassium test.
High potassium levels in your blood can be dangerous as it affects how your heart’s muscles work. If you have too much potassium, your heart may start beating irregularly, which could lead to a heart attack in the worst scenarios.
One large egg contains about 63 mg of potassium. Eggs are known to be a low-potassium food. However, you should check with your doctor or dietician before to know about the quantity you need to add to your diet.
Some of the food items that can balance your potassium in case of high levels are root vegetables, bananas, avocado, spinach, prunes, dates, raisins, and sun-dried or pureed tomatoes.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). High potassium (hyperkalemia).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Low potassium (hypokalemia).
- Potassium. (2019).