A comprehensive understanding of fluid and electrolyte balance is critical to managing severely ill surgical patients. Prior to treating such pathophysiology, one must understand normal physiologic control mechanisms. Normal extracellular potassium levels range from 3.5 to 5 mEq/L. Hypokalemia is defined as a serum potassium level less than 3.5 mEq/L and can be life threatening when levels are below 2.5 mEq/L. It affects about one in five hospitalized patients and is one of the most common electrolyte abnormalities. Normally, hypokalemia is not due to decreased potassium intake but increased renal or extra-renal losses. The underlying cause of hypokalemia should be identified and treated, especially in the presence of hypomagnesemia or redistributive hypokalemia. It is critical to understand the proper evaluation and monitoring of these patients prior to implementing any treatment algorithms.
KeywordsHypokalemia Hypomagnesemia Dysrhythmia