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Does Insulin Raise Potassium Levels?

By Helen Messina

Insulin, a protein hormone secreted by the pancreas, promotes the entry of glucose into tissues as the body's primary energy source. Insulin encourages the liver to store glucose as glycogen, a form of starch. The result of insulin production lowers the amount of glucose in the blood and boosts the ability of cells to take up more potassium, magnesium and phosphate. The increase in potassium inside cells can have potential positive or negative side effects.

Types of Insulin

Human insulin, one of three hormones produced in the pancreas, lowers sugar or glucose in the blood. The other two hormones are glucagon, which raises blood sugar, and somatostatin, which blocks the release of glucagon and insulin. Commercially prepared insulins are classified as rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting and long-acting insulins based on the onset of action, peak level of action and the duration of action. Insulin can be standard or purified and come from beef, pork or human sources.

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is a chronic endocrine disease characterized by insulin production deficiency and problems with protein, carbohydrate and fat synthesis throughout the body. There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent and Type 2 diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes. Treatment for Type 1 includes insulin replacement while Type 2 is managed with diet, exercise and medications, and insulin may be required as the disease progresses. Monitoring blood sugar is part of the daily diabetes regimen.

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Side Effects

The most consistent life-threatening side effects with all insulin types are hypoglycemia,or low glucose, and anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction. Insulin increases the ability of the cells to draw more potassium into them from the fluid outside, thus lowering the amount of potassium in the bloodstream. If potassium concentration in the body is already low, insulin can trigger a severe deficiency called hypokalemia.

Hyperkalemia Treatment

Excessively high levels of potassium, called hyperkalemia, is a medical emergency requiring treatment with medications to maintain heart function while underlying causes are diagnosed and treated. Intravenous regular insulin, a fast-acting insulin, is administered to pull potassium from the bloodstream back into cells to lower concentrations. Calcium gluconate decreases potassium's effect on the heart while diuretics increase potassium excretion in the urine. Monitoring blood glucose and potassium levels prevents a rapid decline in either concentration.

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