What Is Hypokalemia?
occurs when the blood’s potassium levels are too low. A normal level of
potassium is 3.6-5.2 millimoles per liter. Levels below 3.6 are considered low.
Anything below 2.5 millimoles per liter is very low (Mayo Clinic).
is an electrolyte. It is necessary for nerve and muscle cell functioning. It is
especially important for the functioning of muscle cells in the heart. The
kidneys control potassium levels. Excess potassium leaves the body through
urine or sweat.
is also called hypokalemic syndrome, low potassium syndrome, nephritis, and
What Causes Hypokalemia?
is a symptom or side effect of other conditions and some medications. Hypokalemia
usually occurs when too much potassium is lost through urine, sweat, or bowel
movements. In rare cases, hypokalemia is caused by too little potassium intake.
things can cause potassium loss. The most common cause is the use of diuretics,
or pills that cause urine production. Diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive use of
laxatives can also cause symptoms. Excessive sweating due to heat or exercise
can cause hypokalemia.
causes of hypokalemia include:
- consuming large amounts of
caffeine or licorice
- medication (such as penicillin or
- magnesium deficiency
- kidney failure
- complications from diabetes
- adrenal gland issues
- gastrointestinal infections or
What Are the Symptoms of Hypokalemia?
are usually no signs of hypokalemia. Some people suffer from weakness, fatigue,
constipation, and muscle cramping. In more severe cases, heart arrhythmias, or
abnormal rhythms may occur. This is most common in people with heart problems.
complications include low blood pressure, muscle twitches, and loss of muscle
control (such as in the bowel). Hypokalemia can also cause mineral deficiency
and loss of muscle in the skeletal system. Other symptoms include excessive
urination, extreme thirst, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
How Is Hypokalemia Diagnosed?
is usually diagnosed during routine blood tests, which check the levels of
potassium in the blood. Testing because of symptoms or complications is rare.
How Is Hypokalemia Treated?
may prescribe medication that will treat the underlying condition. In some
cases, potassium supplements are recommended.
What Is the Outlook For Hypokalemia?
the underlying condition usually resolves this problem. Most people learn to
control their potassium with minimal impact on their lives.
In rare cases, hypokalemia can lead to paralysis or
Eating a diet that is rich in potassium can help prevent and treat low blood potassium. If you are taking potassium supplements, discuss your diet with your doctor to make sure you are not taking too much potassium. Good sources of potassium include:
- peas and beans
- peanut butter