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Thyroid and Potassium Deficiency

By Ngozi Oguejiofo

The thyroid glands are responsible for producing and secreting thyroid hormones. These hormones regulate how fast or slow the body works. Hyperthyroidism is a disorder in which the thyroid glands over produce thyroid hormones. It is also associated with a rare complication called thyrotoxic periodic paralysis. The Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia explains that this complication is typically seen in Asian males.


In hyperthyroidism, the body is exposed to higher than normal amounts of thyroid hormones. This speeds up the rate at which body processes occur. A person suffering from this condition may experience excessive sweating, weight loss, shaking or tremors, a fast heart rate, increased appetite, sleep problems or headaches. Hyperthyroidism may occur as a result of an autoimmune disease that stimulates the thyroid glands to over produce thyroid hormones or thyroid hormone producing tumors. It may also occur as a result of thyroid gland inflammation.


Potassium helps nerves in the body respond to stimuli and ensures that the muscles of the heart contract properly. It is also crucial for smooth and skeletal muscles to work properly. Hypokalemia is a term used to describe potassium deficiency or abnormally low serum levels of potassium. Poor dietary intake of potassium rarely causes this condition but, excessive loss of potassium in urine or through vomiting and diarrhea can cause this problem. Potassium deficiency can also occur when potassium in the serum -- a part of the bloodstream -- move into the cells.


Effects of potassium deficiency include muscle weakness, muscular paralysis, abnormal heart rhythms and intestinal paralysis which could lead to constipation.

Thyrotoxic Periodic Paralysis

Thyrotoxic periodic paralysis is a condition that affects individuals who suffer from hyperthyroidism. In this hyperthyroidism complication, sufferers experience episodes of paralysis that last for hours or days. During these episodes, serum levels of potassium are lower than normal. People who have thyrotoxic periodic paralysis may have attacks daily or yearly. "Thyroid for Dummies," by Alan L. Rubin explains that abrupt movement of potassium from the bloodstream to the cells causes thyrotoxic periodic paralysis.


Potassium deficiency during periods of paralysis, high thyroid hormones and episodic paralysis in a patient may lead a physician to suspect thyrotoxic periodic paralysis. Diagnosis of thyrotoxic periodic paralysis is done by ruling out conditions that cause hypokalemia or potassium deficiency.

Treatment for this condition involves, normalizing levels of thyroid hormones in the body. This is done with anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine or surgery. Potassium supplements can also be given during attacks. In severe cases of paralysis, intravenous potassium may be administered.

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