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What is the Sodium Potassium Pump?

Nurse Mike (Mike Linares)
By SimpleNursing | Published December 14th, 2018
Published December 14th, 2018
illustration of the sodium potassium pump

A sodium-potassium pump is an enzyme located in the cell membrane that plays a vital role in muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission, and other processes in your body. In today’s post, we’re going over this enzyme’s essence, responsibility, and overall mechanism.

The sodium-potassium pump can be a perplexing topic, especially for nursing students, due to its nature, function, and how the entire process contributes to a healthier well-being.

In nursing school, you’ll learn how to use this information to help patients with heart disease who are on diuretic therapy (which can cause electrolyte imbalances).

What is the Sodium Potassium Pump?

At this very moment, a diversified network of nerve impulses runs throughout the human anatomy. However, these complex movements are only possible with the help of the sodium-potassium pump. 

It’s specifically designed to transport proteins found within the cell membranes. Cell membranes are semi-permeable external barriers of most cells inside the body.

Sodium Potassium Pump Function

The primary function of the sodium-potassium pump is to propel potassium ions inside the cell, and at the same time extract sodium ions from the cell. 

Due to this intricacy, the sodium-potassium pump is considered one of the most critical processes inside the body. Electrical signals will not be possible without it, and the cells will eventually deteriorate.

The sodium-potassium pump is notable in nerve cells and the kidneys and plays an essential role in heart contractions and blood pressure. So thank the sodium-potassium pump for a steady heartbeat!

How Does the Sodium Potassium Pump Work? (The Cell Boat Story)

To get the sodium-potassium pump to operate, sodium has to be taken from the cell, and replaced with potassium.

To facilitate effective recall of the sodium-potassium pump, we have created a short story about a sailboat, in this case, a cell boat that wishes to catch fish and drain the boat of saltwater.

In the cell boat, the goal is to keep the saltwater, which is representative of sodium, from going inside the boat. If saltwater goes inside the cell boat, the natural thing to do is to get rid of that saltwater by pumping it out. This is to avoid an abundance of sodium inside the cell.

On the other hand, if you’re going on a fishing trip, your primary goal is to catch as many fish as possible. The fish represents the potassium. Pulling potassium is essential for the cell boat because it’s an electrolyte used for electric conduction, and maintains fluid and electrolyte balance.

It’s that easy.

sodium potassium pump exchange illustration

So as a summary: the sailboat (cell boat) represents the cell, while the saltwater is the sodium, and the fish are potassium. You want seawater pumped out of the cell and potassium pulled into the cell for contraction and conductivity.

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Nurse Mike (Mike Linares)
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