The potassium question – a Chronicles of the Heart supplement…

Are some of my heart problems related to potassium deficiency?

For years now, I’ve been supplementing with potassium chloride, as I’m taking 4 drugs which cause potassium deficiency – see this post.

Anyway, the supplement eased a lot of the heart problems that have plagued me for years (I have had heart problems that no bugger has taken seriously since the mid 80s, and then everything went to hell last year). After a couple of false starts with heart failure drugs, we settled on Candesartan, a thoroughly nasty drug which, though, is very effective (was, rather, as it is no longer as effective, though I crash in flames if I don’t take it).

It does, among its many unwanted side effects, concentrate potassium in the body. To what degree it does this, the literature is silent, but as I also have a diuretic which strips potassium from the body, how much of a problem can it be?** However, the instructions were to stop using LoSalt (two-thirds potassium Chloride), and I also stopped my supplement.

**Surely my potassium levels should be being monitored regularly? Yeah, right…

And as regular readers will know, I’ve gone steadily downhill for months now and, the big problem was, I’d forgotten about that blog post (hey, I’ve been a bit preoccupied!).

So – here’s a thought – am I really deficient in potassium? After all, doubt I’m getting much in the way of dietary potassium, as I have just one small meal a day, so is the diuretic removing it faster than the Candesartan is hoarding it? I don’t know, but I can sure as hell find out. And I do have two major indicators of potassium deficiency, heart buggeration, to use a technical term, in excess of what should be going on, and profound muscle weakness, far worse than can be accounted for by age or illness alone.

A check online shows I do each some foods with a decent potassium level, but – and it’s a J-Lo sized but – not enough. And the very good source everyone whose ever been involved in any athletic activity at all knows, bananas, I eat not at all.

The RDA for my age group is 4.7g – I seriously doubt I’m getting that much.

I have a bottle of potassium chloride tablets, 200mg, which are easily split into 4** (though I have to say I did very well on 200mg, but no point in pushing my luck just yet). So I’ve started with 50mg, today.

**Absolute accuracy doesn’t matter – there’s no accuracy when you get the stuff from food.

That was a short while ago, and looking at my pulse ox, I’m no longer tachy (pulse is 78 – low for me – it’s been around 125 for months), and my heart-beat is much stronger. O2 sats, 93%, about average. I feel better too – I’ve felt for weeks as if I’ve been teetering on the edge of calamity, with my heart racing, throwing PVCs like there’s no tomorrow, and generally misbehaving.

Right now, I don’t feel bad at all though, obviously, I’m still very weak – right now it’s a huge effort just to turn on the kitchen taps – that’s going to take time to fix.

There is a light risk – hell every day’s a risk right now – but unlike i-v potassium, an excess of which can kill you in minutes by stopping your heart, oral potassium is much better regulated by the body, which does a very good job of keeping the stuff in balance. It has to be, if you think about it, as it’s very easy to ingest an excess from food, especially if you eat more than me, and even more so if you’re a vegetarian (many beans have a decent potassium content).

So for now, I’ll trust that mechanism, and stick with 50mg for a while, see how I go. If that causes no problems – and, of course, I must remember my diuretics – I’ll go up to 100mg.

I think, too, that it might be an idea to dissolve the stuff in a drink and sip it throughout the day, that would avoid any peaks in intake.

Watch this space for progress reports – I might well be onto something here.

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4 thoughts on “The potassium question – a Chronicles of the Heart supplement…

  1. Ron,
    I follow your fight with illness and lack of care from the NHS with almost as much frustration as you do. I wish you well.
    Perhaps with your obvious knowlege of copd you could help me. In the case of severe dehydration am I correct in assuming that there is the the possibility of unacceptable potassium build up which if left untreated can result in a heart attack. Also if iv fluids are given is there point at which the siutation cannot be retrieved because the fluids can only be given at at maximum rate to avoid what is virtually drowning the paient.

    • Hi Ralph,

      Obviously I’m not an expert, but in the first instance it’s almost certain that death would result from simply dehydration, before potassium became a problem. It does, of course, depend on the starting level of potassium. And people vary enormously, so what you suggest isn’t impossible.

      As for your second question, almost impossible I’d say, assuming the kidneys are working normally. It is possible to “drown” at a cellular level, which is presumably what you have in mind, but that takes a huge volume – several gallons – of ingested fluid (the fluid floods the GI tract faster than it can be excreted, forming a reservoir which is absorbed into the bloodstream, with catastrophic results, and while people have done it, most notoriously under the influence of Ecstasy, it’s pretty rare and takes a lot of effort.

      Whether such gross fluid overload is achievable via an i-v, I have my doubts.

      If, however, your worry is potassium poisoning, then there are other ways of removing it from the system without simply flushing it out, but that’s way beyond my pay grade, I’m afraid.

      Ron.

    • Hi Fi,

      Simple – it’s uncontrolled – it’s quite impossible to know how much I’m getting from food especially, as I said, when I have just one small meal a day, which makes it pretty well impossible to get adequate supplies from food anyway.

      It’s also impossible to know how much potassium food contains, or to make allowances for cooking losses. I know there are tables of foods and their potassium content, but those figures are at best averages and at worst, speculative – an idea of what would occur under ideal conditions – which never happen, of course.

      With a supplement I know exactly what I’m getting, and can easily increase it if I need to. Which I probably will – 50mg is just the jumping-off point. If I remain stable on that, next week I’ll add another 50 – see how that works out. Much safer than adding another shovelful of beans and hoping for the best!

      Ron.

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