Physiology and pathophysiology of potassium homeostasis

Adv Physiol Educ. 2016 Dec;40(4):480-490. doi: 10.1152/advan.00121.2016.


Total body potassium content and proper distribution of potassium across the cell membrane is of critical importance for normal cellular function. Potassium homeostasis is maintained by several different methods. In the kidney, total body potassium content is achieved by alterations in renal excretion of potassium in response to variations in intake. Insulin and beta-adrenergic tone play critical roles in maintaining the internal distribution of potassium under normal conditions. Despite homeostatic pathways designed to maintain potassium levels within the normal range, disorders of altered potassium homeostasis are common. The clinical approach to designing effective treatments relies on understanding the pathophysiology and regulatory influences which govern the internal distribution and external balance of potassium. Here we provide an overview of the key regulatory aspects of normal potassium physiology. This review is designed to provide an overview of potassium homeostasis as well as provide references of seminal papers to guide the reader into a more in depth discussion of the importance of potassium balance. This review is designed to be a resource for educators and well-informed clinicians who are teaching trainees about the importance of potassium balance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Homeostasis / drug effects
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / drug effects
  • Kidney / physiology*
  • Kidney / physiopathology*
  • Potassium / administration & dosage
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Potassium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Potassium, Dietary / metabolism*


  • Potassium, Dietary
  • Potassium