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Low Potassium Nearly Killed Construction Worker

Q. I am in the construction industry and have to deal with all kinds of weather. I am also an emergency medical technician with 18 years of experience.

On July 19th, I died. Fortunately for me, I was with co-workers when I passed out with no vital signs. They immediately started CPR while waiting for the on-site medics to arrive.

The medical team had a defibrillator with them and I was resuscitated within a few minutes.

When I arrived at the hospital, my potassium level was critically low. The temperature in the facility that day was over 109 degrees. I was drinking water, but plain water can “wash” potassium out of the body.

Anyone working in heat and humidity, or even just stuck in an apartment without air conditioning, should replenish minerals as well as water.

A. We’re glad you survived this close call. People are often told to drink lots of water in hot weather to avoid dehydration. But it is possible to overdo this good advice.

When potassium levels drop too low, people can experience muscle weakness and cramping, trouble breathing and cardiac arrest.

Low sodium levels have also been linked to life-threatening collapse, so maintaining mineral balance in hot weather is crucial. Sports drinks may help.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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