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Low Potassium Led to Scary Emergencies

Low Potassium Led to Scary Emergencies

Q. Last August through September I landed in two different emergency rooms with very low potassium in my blood.  I was admitted to hospital for five days and then into sub-acute rehab nursing care.  After I was discharged, I had to go back to another emergency room with the same problem.

I saw a doctor twice at a family practice that has a geriatric physician on staff.  During all of this, I had prescriptions filled at two different pharmacies for potassium chloride.  I am eighty and take Vasotec for blood pressure, a diuretic and a dose of prednisone.

I kept feeling worse and finally stopped the prescribed potassium.  I have experienced slow improvement and am eating high potassium foods.

When I purchased the book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them… I found that my PROBLEM was Screwup #9. Two different pharmacists had also “screwed up.”  It was frightening to realize that Vasotec, prednisone and potassium drugs may cause dangerous interactions in the elderly.

 3 ERs, 2 Pharmacists, 1 SubAcute Rehab, and 1 doctor–2 times.  Am I too old to go to med school? 

 Thank you for writing the book and for looking out for all of us.

A. We don’t know why your potassium was low to start with, but we agree that potassium imbalance–either too low or too high–is frightening. People in this situation may die before the problem is discovered. 

We offer a list of high-potassium foods that you can use to keep your equilibrium. Remember that Vasotec (enalapril) can boost potassium, so if you are eating a lot of these foods and taking that drug you should have your potassium checked from time to time: 

Potassium-Rich Foods 

  • Apricots
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Bean sprouts
  • Beet greens
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Black bass
  • Blackberries
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Brazil nuts
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carambola
  • Carrots
  • Catfish
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Chicken
  • Clams
  • Cocoa (not alkali-processed)
  • Cod
  • Collards*
  • Dates
  • Flounder
  • Guava
  • Hamburger
  • Halibut
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Liver
  • Milk
  • Mullet
  • Mushrooms
  • Mussels
  • Nectarines
  • Oatmeal
  • Oranges
  • Oysters
  • Peaches
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Perch
  • Plums
  • Pomegranate
  • Pork chops
  • Potatoes (baked with skin)
  • Prickly pear
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Raspberries
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Snapper
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet potato
  • Tomatoes
  • Tuna
  • Veal
  • Wheat germ
  • Yeast
  • Yogurt

 Others who would like to learn about the other nine screwups (and tips to avoid them!) may wish to check out our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.

Have you ever experienced an error? What about somone you know or love? Share your story below. Most important, learn about the best ways to protect yourself from medical mistakes!

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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