Potassium deficiency is an important complication in the treatment of heart disease. However, there is a serious dichotomy in the literature. Severe potassium depletion has been reported in this condition when exchangeable potassium was measured whereas normal levels or marginal depletion were found in measurements of total body potassium. To clarify this situation, simultaneous measurements of total body potassium by whole-body counting, and of exchangeable potassium by isotope dilution using 43K, were made in 10 male subjects with established airways obstruction. Sequential determinations showed that exchangeable potassium increased up to 68 hours after administration, and values obtained at only 24 hours would have been a substantial underestimate. In this group of subjects neither total body nor exchangeable potassium at 48 hours was significantly different from the expected normal value.
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