Hypokalemic paralyses: a review of the etiologies, pathophysiology, presentation, and therapy

Am J Emerg Med. 1992 Mar;10(2):143-8. doi: 10.1016/0735-6757(92)90048-3.


Acute hypokalemic paralysis is an uncommon cause of acute weakness. Morbidity and mortality associated with unrecognized disease include respiratory failure and death. Hence, it is imperative for physicians to be knowledgeable about the causes of hypokalemic paralysis, and consider them diagnostically. The hypokalemic paralyses represent a heterogeneous group of disorders with a final common pathway presenting as acute weakness and hypokalemia. Most cases are due to familial hypokalemic paralysis; however, sporadic cases are associated with diverse underlying etiologies including thyrotoxic periodic paralysis, barium poisoning, renal tubular acidosis, primary hyperaldosteronism, licorice ingestion, and gastrointestinal potassium losses. The approach to the patient with hypokalemic paralysis includes a vigorous search for the underlying etiology and potassium replacement therapy. Further therapy depends on the etiology of the hypokalemia. Disposition depends on severity of symptoms, degree of hypokalemia, and chronicity of disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis, Renal Tubular / complications
  • Barium / poisoning
  • Diarrhea / complications
  • Humans
  • Hyperaldosteronism / complications
  • Hyperthyroidism / complications
  • Hypokalemia / complications*
  • Hypokalemia / drug therapy
  • Hypokalemia / etiology
  • Kidney Diseases / complications
  • Paralyses, Familial Periodic / etiology
  • Paralysis / etiology*
  • Potassium / therapeutic use


  • Barium
  • Potassium