Potassium Test

Other names: K

Potassium is only present in very small amounts in the blood; potassium is present in every fluid in the body but most of the body’s potassium is stored in the cells. Potassium is important for bodily function and changes in the level of potassium may cause health problems, including impaired nerve and muscle function.

Why is the test used?

The test is used to measure the level of potassium in the body; certain health conditions, including kidney disease, can cause levels to change.

The test may be ordered when patients have symptoms of many different health conditions. The test is routinely ordered for those who are undergoing treatment for kidney disease and is often ordered for patients with high blood pressure and those who take diuretic and heart medications.

How is the test performed?

The test is carried out by using a needle to take a sample of the patient’s blood; the needle is inserted into a vein in the arm (usually on the inside of the elbow) and the blood is drawn out and collected in a syringe. Once the doctor has sufficient sample, the blood will be bottled, labelled with the patient’s name and sent off to the laboratory for testing.

What do the test results show?

If levels are higher than normal (known as hyperkalaemia), this may indicate that the patient has one of a number of health conditions, including:

  • Addison’s disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Infection
  • Tissue injury

Certain medications may also cause potassium levels to increase.

If levels of potassium are lower than usual (known as hypokalaemia), this usually indicates that patient has had sickness or diarrhoea; in rare cases, it may be caused by insufficient potassium intake (through the diet).

Certain medications, including diuretics, can also cause potassium levels to decrease.

Specific Blood Tests

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