Body and health are all about balance. Vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, hormones, cholesterol, and other biomarkers need to be within the normal range for our good health and wellbeing.
When this balance is disturbed, various symptoms may occur and increase the risk of numerous health problems.
While some biomarkers are widely discussed, others are not as much, and potassium level is one of them. Monitoring potassium is important, especially for people with heart and kidney problems. In this post, we’re going to focus on the home potassium test and what it can tell you about your health.
What Is a Potassium Test?
As you can conclude based on its name, the potassium test is a type of test that checks potassium levels in your blood. As a typical blood test, the potassium test is noninvasive and doesn’t have side effects.
Potassium is an important mineral that functions as an electrolyte in the human body.
When in water, electrolytes dissolve into positive or negative ions with the ability to conduct electricity. Potassium ions have a positive charge.
As one of the most abundant minerals in the body, potassium participates in many functions. These functions include regulation of body fluid, sending nerve signals, and controlling muscle contractions.
Potassium supports renal health by preventing kidney stones.
Calcium is a common mineral in kidney stones, and potassium may lower its concentration.
Who Needs a Potassium Test?
Maintaining potassium balance is important, but not everyone should monitor the levels of this electrolyte regularly. Some people do need to do so. In most cases, a potassium test is just a part of a basic metabolic panel, a group of tests that check for various biomarkers in your blood.
But, you may need to do a potassium test in the following situations:
- Managing heart problems and high blood pressure;
- Monitoring kidney disease;
- Monitoring electrolyte balance;
- Measuring the impact of medications like diuretics, heart medications, and hypertension medications on potassium levels.
These are the common reasons someone may want to do an at-home potassium test.
But in a clinical setting, your doctor may also order a potassium test to diagnose kidney or heart problems, check for metabolic acidosis, diagnose alkalosis, and identify the cause of paralysis attack.
How Do At-home Potassium Tests Work?
At this point, there is no at-home test that checks for potassium levels only. One test is currently in development, and it will function similarly to a glucometer used by persons with diabetes. The inspiration for creating this much-needed home test came after patients in one hospital asked whether there’s any way they could monitor their potassium levels at home. Since no such test exists at this point, one company decided to develop an at-home kit specifically for testing potassium.
Until this test hits the market, there are a few options you could use.
For example, you can use at-home tests for kidney health and test your potassium levels.
Just make sure potassium is on the list of biomarkers they analyze for.
The concept is pretty much the same as with laboratory tests – a blood sample is obtained and sent to the laboratory. Results are delivered by email.
What Is the Normal Potassium Range?
The normal level of potassium in the blood is between 3.6 and 5.2 mmoL/l (millimoles per liter). These values act as a reference range to determine whether your potassium levels are high or low.
What Does High Potassium Mean?
High potassium levels (hyperkalemia), over 5.2 mmoL/l, may occur due to a number of reasons. Keep in mind potassium levels higher than 7 mmoL/l can be potentially dangerous.
Potential causes of higher potassium levels in your blood include:
- Kidney disease;
- Addison disease;
- Tissue injury destroying red blood cells or breaking down muscle fibers;
- Respiratory and metabolic acidosis;
- Too much potassium in your diet;
- Some medications such as NSAIDs, beta-blockers, diuretics;
- Blood transfusion;
- Excessive IV potassium;
- Hypoaldesteronism; insufficient secretion of the hormone aldosterone.
Since elevated potassium is a sign of many problems, you should consider seeing your doctor. This is especially the case if you already have heart or kidney problems.
What Does Low Potassium Mean?
Low potassium (hypokalemia), below 3.6 mmoL/l, may also occur due to a number of factors. These include:
- Conn syndrome (primary aldosteronism); excessive secretion of the hormone aldosterone from adrenal glands;
- Diabetes, especially unmanaged or after taking insulin;
- Potassium-wasting diuretics;
- Medications such as corticosteroids, some antibiotics, and antifungals, beta-adrenergic agonists, etc.;
- Insufficient potassium in the diet;
- Folic acid deficiency;
- Chronic kidney disease;
- Cushing’s syndrome, high levels of cortisol.
What Potassium Levels Say About Your Health?
Potassium levels give a closer insight into your general health and wellbeing.
They point to the presence of kidney- and heart-related problem or their management.
Potassium levels also speak a lot about your diet, whether it’s well-balanced or not, hormonal balance, medication intake, gastrointestinal health.
When you suspect heart problems it’s important to perform other health checks to timely detect heart abnormalities and act before it’s too late. In these situations, your reliable helper can be personal heart monitoring devices and related apps, which lets you monitor different aspects of your heart health on your own while staying connected to a doctor remotely.
While there is no at-home test kit that focuses on potassium only, you can use kidney tests and other home tests that check for potassium and other biomarkers. High and low potassium levels occur due to a number of reasons. Results of the test can provide more info about a medical condition you want to manage or describe the current status of other aspects of your health. Make sure to see your doctor regularly, especially if you’re worried about the results of your test.