What is the prevalence of hypokalemia (low potassium level)?

Updated: Dec 06, 2018
  • Author: Eleanor Lederer, MD, FASN; Chief Editor: Vecihi Batuman, MD, FASN  more...
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Answer

The frequency of hypokalemia in the general population is difficult to estimate; however, probably fewer than 1% of people who are not taking medication have a serum potassium level lower than 3.5 mEq/L. Potassium intake varies according to age, sex, ethnic background, and socioeconomic status. Whether these differences in intake produce different degrees of hypokalemia or different sensitivities to hypokalemic insults is not known.

An observational study of patients in a large Swedish healthcare system found that hypokalemia occurred in 49,662 (13.6%) of 364,955 individuals, with 33% recurrence. Female sex, younger age, higher estimate glomerular filtration rate, and baseline use of diuretics were associated with higher hypokalemia risk. [39]

Up to 21% of hospitalized patients have serum potassium levels lower than 3.5 mEq/L, with 5% of patients exhibiting potassium levels lower than 3 mEq/L. Among elderly patients, 5% demonstrate potassium levels lower than 3 mEq/L.


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