COPD meds and potassium deficiency…

For over 20 years I’ve had serious problems with arrhythmias, tachycardia and occasional bouts of angina, though an angiography showed my coronary plumbing to be pristine. While researching another article for COPD meds I came across a nugget of information that was new to me – these problems can be caused by potassium deficiency (hypokalaemia), which I knew, and that can be caused by several of my COPD meds, which I didn’t know:-

  • β-2 sympathomimetics, like Salbutamol and Salmeterol
  • Phosphodiesterase inhibitors, like Theophylline, and its derivatives, including Aminophylline
  • Calcium channel blockers (though this is rare)
  • Diuretics

All of which I take. Calcium channel blockers, by the way, are normally prescribed for angina (they’re smooth muscle relaxants). However, they’re very useful in respiratory illness, like asthma and COPD, as they have a relaxant effect on the smooth muscle of the airways – the trouble is that not all doctors are aware of this, just as they are ignorant of the fact that Peak Flow testing of patients who are growing old after a lifetime of respiratory disease is useless – you get falsely high readings. FEV-1 monitoring is far more reliable. I’ve tried several types of calcium channel blocker and, for me at least, Angitil 180 gives the best results with minimum side effects.

Anyway, back to the potassium. Do NOT supplement with potassium without medical supervision, it’s dangerous. The FSA insists that all the potassium we need can be obtained from a normal diet – except that a normal diet, these days, is pretty much a myth for most people; probably always has been. However, we’re talking a bout a drug-induced deficiency here, and switching from using salt to using Lo-Salt, which is 66% potassium chloride, will give your potassium levels a safe boost and also reduce your sodium intake – a double benefit.

I still use salt for cooking, always sea-salt, as to season, say, a stew, or a pan of potatoes or pasta, adequately, you need so much Lo-Salt you get as much sodium as using ordinary salt, but I use Lo-Salt for on-the-plate seasoning of everything except chips – anything except salt and good malt vinegar is sacrilege (OK – mayo occasionally, but that’s it). Low levels of hypokalaemia can cause fatigue and generalised weakness and muscle pain. These, of course, are pronounced features of my ME – so do I really suffer from chronic hypokalaemia? Possibly, but using Lo-Salt hasn’t improved my ME, so probably not. It can’t have helped, though.

Note: never be tempted to eliminate salt from your diet – salt is vital to all living things, and you will either die or, at best, become very ill if you eliminate salt. I had friend who did that and she became seriously ill. Sadly, some wanker with a Vega “food allergy-testing” machine (these machines are junk, they measure nothing useful at all – see Quackwatch for Vega and associated quackery), convinced her she was allergic to salt. That’s like saying you’re allergic to breathing! Luckily, I, and her parents, sneaked a little salt into her food; enough, at least, to keep her from dying.

Update, September 12 2009:- Despite what I said above, I have started supplementing with potassium chloride at 200mg a day (hey, do as I say, not as I do – unless you know exactly what you’re doing). This is because my eating habits have changed and my salt use has decreased dramatically, as has, by association, my intake of Lo-Salt. And I’ve become very ill.

So today I took my first supplement. The advice is to take it with food, and it’s good advice, as it will make you feel quite sick if you take it on an empty stomach, as smart-arse here did!

I’ll let you know how I get on.