Does Chemotherapy Affect Potassium Levels In The Blood?


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Monica Stott answered
Yes, chemotherapy does affect the level of potassium in the blood. A side effect of chemotherapy is hyperkalemia which is defined as higher levels of potassium in the blood. The normal level of potassium for an adult should be around 3.5  to 5.3 mEq/L but it can be considerably higher during chemotherapy.

Potassium is found inside the cells of our bodies and normal levels help maintain the heart and the nervous system.

During chemotherapy, many cells are destroyed which causes the potassium inside the cells to move to the outside of the cell wall and into the blood stream from the cells and this then leads to hyperkalemia. Also during chemotherapy, there may be some damage to the kidneys and any kidney damage may cause an increase in potassium levels which will also contribute towards hyperkalemia.

Chemotherapy can also lead to a reduction in the amount of potassium in the blood. Certain types of chemotherapy drugs may encourage the kidneys to flush out potassium leading to lower levels. Low levels of potassium can cause fatigue and weakness, cramps and slower reflexes. Patients may be encouraged to eat high potassium foods such as oranges and green leafy vegetables and to avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Chemotherapy works by rapidly killing cancer cells. This is an extremely damaging process for the body but is one of the only known ways to get rid of cancer. Other side effects other than hyperkalemia include myelosupression, which means less blood cells are produced by the body which can then lead to immunosuppression.

Mucositis is also common and occurs when the lining of the digestive tract becomes inflamed and the majority of chemotherapy patients will also suffer from alopecia where they lose all of their hair.

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