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Potassium is an electrolyte, 98% of which is intracellular. The 2% remaining outside of the cell has great implications for cells that generate action potentials. Doctors prescribe potassium for patients when there is insufficient potassium, called hypokalemia, in the blood. The potassium can be given orally, which is the safest route; or it can be given intravenously, in which case there are strict rules and hospital protocols on the rate at which it is given.
The usual intravenous dose is 10-20 mEq per hour and it is given slowly since it takes time for the electrolyte to equilibrate into the cells. When used in state-sanctioned lethal injection, bolus potassium injection affects the electrical conduction of heart muscle. Elevated potassium, or hyperkalemia, causes the resting electrical potential of the heart muscle cells to be higher than normal. Without a negative resting potential, cardiac cells cannot generate impulses that lead to contraction.
Depolarizing the muscle cell inhibits its ability to fire by reducing the available number of sodium channels (they are placed in an inactivated state). ECG changes include faster repolarization (peaked T-waves), PR interval prolongation, widening of the QRS, and eventual sine-wave formation and asystole. The heart eventually stops in asystole. Cases of patients dying from hyperkalemia (usually secondary to renal failure) are well known in the medical community, where patients have been known to die very rapidly, having previously seemed to be normal.
Originally posted by kyred
reply to post by TV_Nation
Just to add to this. Citrus fruits. Lots of potassium in those. Thank goodness I don't like citrus fruits. I would probably go crazy, what with the no taters and bananas and all.
Originally posted by catlantis
As noted above, one of the reasons potassium supplements are so small, is that for some reason, our bodies cannot handle it in that form and too much can cause some heart issues in higher doses. I think it slows it down (but not sure).
In physiology, the primary ions of electrolytes are sodium(Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), chloride (Cl−), hydrogen phosphate (HPO42−), and hydrogen carbonate (HCO3−). The electric charge symbols of plus (+) and minus (−) indicate that the substance in question is ionic in nature and has an imbalanced distribution of electrons, which is the result of chemical dissociation.
All known higher lifeforms require a subtle and complex electrolyte balance between the intracellular and extracellular milieu. In particular, the maintenance of precise osmotic gradients of electrolytes is important. Such gradients affect and regulate the hydration of the body, blood pH, and are critical for nerve and muscle function. Various mechanisms exist in living species that keep the concentrations of different electrolytes under tight control.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A woman who competed in a radio station’s contest to see how much water she could drink without going to the bathroom died of water intoxication, the coroner’s office said Saturday.
Jennifer Strange, 28, was found dead Friday in her suburban Rancho Cordova home hours after taking part in the “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest in which KDND 107.9 promised a Nintendo Wii video game system for the winner.
“She said to one of our supervisors that she was on her way home and her head was hurting her real bad,” said Laura Rios, one of Strange’s co-workers at Radiological Associates of Sacramento. “She was crying and that was the last that anyone had heard from her.”
Recently there was this story of a woman in a contest who forced herself to drink so much water she threw off her electrolytes and died from it: