We report a case of hypokalemia resulting from colonic pseudo-obstruction or Ogilvie's syndrome. Colonic pseudo-obstruction is characterized by profuse watery diarrhea that has a low sodium and high potassium concentration. It is seen in a variety of medical and surgical conditions, but its exact cause remains unknown. It is thought to result from an imbalance of sympathetic and parasympathetic input in the distal colon. The diarrhea is secretory and driven by potassium secretion rather than the inhibition of sodium reabsorption or chloride secretion, which are the most common pathophysiologic mechanisms of secretory diarrhea. Affected patients often lose >100 mmol of potassium daily. Colonic pseudo-obstruction is associated with a dramatic upregulation of the maxiK or BK potassium channel. This channel plays a prominent role in flow-mediated potassium secretion in the connecting tubule and collecting duct and is also upregulated in the distal colon in patients with advanced chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease. In vitro studies show that the channel is regulated by catecholamine binding to the β receptor and cyclic AMP upregulation, somatostatin and aldosterone, insights that can be used to help guide pharmacologic therapy. Nephrologists should be aware of colonic pseudo-obstruction as a cause of extrarenal potassium loss.
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