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Clinical Research

Reduced concentrations of potassium, magnesium, and sodium-potassium pumps in human skeletal muscle during treatment with diuretics

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1988; 296 doi: (Published 13 February 1988) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1988;296:455
  1. I Dørup,
  2. K Skajaa,
  3. T Clausen,
  4. K Kjeldsen


    Animal studies have shown that potassium depletion induced by diuretics or potassium deficient fodder leads to a selective decrease in the concentrations of potassium and in the concentration of sodium-potassium pumps in skeletal muscle. In 25 patients who had received diuretics for 2-14 years the mean concentrations of potassium, magnesium, and sodium-potassium pumps were measured in skeletal muscle biopsy specimens and were significantly lower than in those from a group of age matched controls. The reductions in all three variables were significant in those patients receiving diuretics for arterial hypertension as well as in those being treated for congestive heart failure. In 14 patients the mean muscle potassium concentration was below the control range, but only one of those was hypokalaemic (3·4 mmol/l), and 13 were receiving potassium supplements. In 15 patients the mean muscle magnesium concentration was below normal, and the mean muscle potassium and magnesium concentrations showed a linear correlation. In 12 patients in whom the mean muscle potassium concentration was below 80 μmol/g wet weight there was a linear correlation between the cellular potassium:sodium ratio and the concentration of 3H-ouabain binding sites indicating that potassium deficiency also leads to a down regulation of sodium-potassium pumps in human skeletal muscle.

    In spite of potassium supplements long term treatment with diuretics may lead to potassium and magnesium deficiencies, which are not detectable using the standard methods of serum analysis. The changes in concentrations of electrolytes and sodium-potassium pumps associated with treatment with diuretics may impair muscle function and potassium homoeostasis and interfere with the distribution of digitalis glycosides.

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