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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Hyperkalemic Paralysis
December 2001

Q. My boyfriend is 20 years old and he has hyperkalemic paralysis. I don't understand what causes it. Is it something that can be cured?

A. Hyperkalemic paralysis is a rare disorder, occurring about 1 per 100,000 population and affecting more men than women. It is thought to be an inherited disorder affecting muscle cells. Hyperkalemia refers to elevated levels of potassium in the bloodstream. Potassium levels are normally regulated by the kidneys and are very tightly controlled as they are vital to muscle function, heart electrical activity, and blood clotting. The paralysis attacks are more common during rest periods after exertion and may last 1-2 hours. Treatment may be needed in an emergency setting. Prevention is aimed at controlling potassium levels with medication such as diuretics or acetazolamide.



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