Potassium Chloride vs. Potassium Citrate: What’s the Difference?

Roni Shye
Roni Shye, PharmD BCGP BCACP, is a licensed pharmacist in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
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Potassium chloride and potassium citrate have similar names, so they should treat the same conditions, right? Not quite. While they are both supplements that contain potassium, the two actually have different uses, side effects and dosages, and cannot be substituted for each other.

First, what is potassium chloride?

Potassium chloride is used to treat hypokalemia, or low potassium levels, caused by diet, medications, diarrhea, sweating or some diseases. Hypokalemia can cause symptoms like muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythms, constipation, fatigue and even paralysis.  

Potassium chloride is sold as a generic drug but is also marketed under the following brand names: Klor-Con M, K-Tab, Klor Con and Micro K. Keep in mind that these are more expensive than generic potassium chloride because they are brand drugs.

What are side effects of potassium chloride?

Common side effects of potassium chloride include nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, and tingling in the hands and feet. Potassium chloride can also cause hyperkalemia (high potassium levels in the blood), and is only recommended in pregnant women under strict physician supervision as hyperkalemia can pose a risk to the fetus.

What are the forms and dosages of potassium chloride?

Potassium chloride comes in both immediate-release and extended-release forms. Immediate-release potassium chloride is available in a packet (20 meq), bottle of oral solution (10%, 20%), and effervescent tablets (25 meq), while potassium chloride ER (extended release) is available in tablets (8 meq, 10 meq, 20 meq) and capsules (10 meq, 8 meq).

How should I take potassium chloride?

Potassium chloride should be taken with a full glass of juice or water, as this helps prevent you from getting an upset stomach.

How much does potassium chloride cost?

Potassium chloride is inexpensive. With a GoodRx discount, 30 effervescent tablets cost only $20, and both the 450 ml bottle of 10% oral solution and the 20 meq packets can be purchased for as little as $60 for a 30-day supply.

Now, what is potassium citrate?

Potassium citrate is indicated for the treatment of kidney stones, which are crystal-like structures that form in the kidneys. Kidney stones are a result of excess amounts of uric acid (a natural byproduct of the body’s metabolism) or calcium in the blood. They can be caused by diet, certain diseases, genetics or medications.

Potassium citrate is equivalent to the brand-name drug, Urocit-K.

What are side effects of potassium citrate?

Side effects of potassium citrate include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, headache and dizziness. Just like potassium chloride, potassium citrate should be taken by women who are pregnant only when it’s medically necessary and under a doctor’s supervision.

What are the forms and dosages of potassium citrate?

Potassium citrate is only available as a tablet in strengths of 5 meq, 10 meq, and 15 meq.

How should I take potassium citrate?

In order to avoid an upset stomach or nausea, take potassium citrate with a meal or within 30 minutes of a meal.  

How much does potassium citrate cost?

LIke potassium chloride, potassium citrate is also affordable. A 30-day supply of all strengths can cost as little as $45 with a GoodRx discount.

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