Potassium chloride is a naturally occurring mineral required by the body for a number of biological processes. Since this organic compound is taken up from the soil by plants, it’s added to fertilizer. Potassium chloride also has a variety of industrial and medical applications. For instance, it was once used as a fire retardant agent in portable fire extinguishers, and today it is used as an optical crystal. The versatility of this substance is due to its unique properties.
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Potassium chloride occurs in nature in mineral form as sylvite, which is structurally similar to halite, or common rock salt. It can also be obtained from sylvinite, where it forms in combination with sodium chloride. While several other minerals and salts contain potassium chloride, it never exists freely in nature.
According to the database of the International Programme on Chemical Safety, or IPCS, the molecular formula of potassium chloride is KCL, it has a molecular weight of 74.551 g/mol and it is made up of 52.4 percent potassium and 47.6 percent chloride.
Like many salts, potassium chloride has a crystalline structure, in this case what’s known as “face-centered cubic.” This means that the mineral cleaves easily, or sheers across the lattice formation in three different directions when tapped.
Potassium chloride has an approximate pH of 7.0 and is soluble in water and alcohol, but not ether. In its natural state at room temperature, it appears as an odorless and colorless crystalline or granular powder. However, it does impart a saline taste.
Potassium chloride has several effects in the body. For instance, according to the IPCS, potassium chloride is an essential element, 98 percent of which is concentrated in virtually every cell in the body. In fact, this substance initiates a variety of enzymatic reactions and is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates. Potassium chloride also plays a role in muscle movement and nerve conduction. According to the drug information database from Drugs.com, potassium itself is necessary for your heart to function normally. Potassium deficiency, a condition known as hypokalemia, is treated with potassium chloride therapy.
Mild side effects associated with potassium chloride supplementation include stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea and tingling of the hands and feet. More severe side effects include numbness of the hands, feet or face, muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, increased thirst and urination, confusion, anxiety, vomiting or coughing up blood. Allergic reactions may occur in some people, such as hives, shortness of breath or swelling of the tongue, throat, lips, face or extremities.
Do not take potassium chloride tablets without first consulting your physician if you have a history of kidney disease, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, or adrenal gland dysfunction. Potassium chloride should not be used during pregnancy or lactation unless directed by a physician. This substance is known to react with a number of drugs, so be sure to keep your doctor informed of any medications you are taking, including over-the-counter products.