Hypokalemia: Symptoms Causes And Treatment Of Potassium Deficiency
- 02 Jan 2020
Potassium deficiency, or Hypokalemia, is a condition in which a person does not get enough potassium for their body. It can be due to a poor diet or loss due to diarrhoea or vomiting. Potassium deficiency can result in medical conditions like high blood pressure, constipation, muscle weakness, and fatigue.
Diagnostic Tests/lab Tests/lab Values
Hypokalemia is commonly found in a blood test, with < 3.5mmol/L as mild hypokalemia and < 2.5mmol/L as severe hypokalmia.
In severe cases, a 12-lead electrocardiogram may be necessary if to check for cardiac arrythymias. Findings such as T-wave flattening or prominent U waves will result in hospital admission. Other tests may include:
- arterial blood gas
- basic or comprehensive metabolic panel
Blood tests will also be administered to check the following:
Why You Need Potassium
Potassium is largely involved in regulating fluid balance. It is found in every cell, so without it, cells lose the ability to function properly.
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Potassium is a beneficial electrolyte that works with sodium to regulate blood pressure. It also transmits electrical impulses to control your nerves and muscles.
This essential mineral plays important roles throughout your entire body, so it is clear to see how a deficiency could cause you serious problems.
Low potassium levels do not actually occur as a result of low potassium intake through diet. More commonly, hypokalemia occurs when your body loses too much fluid.
This can occur as a result of chronic vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, or excessive sweating. In most cases people are not aware of the deficiency, so it remains untreated. The signs and symptoms to look out for can help you identify the condition quickly, so you can increase potassium intake and maintain healthy balance.
You are not alone if you do not currently get the potassium you need. Potassium deficiency is common across the country, and as said before, the cause is not usually related to diet.
Knowing this, you can be prepared in the event you develop chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or severe blood loss. Should this happen, be aware that your potassium levels have dropped and you will need to pick them up in order to prevent any of these symptoms and hypokalemia.
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When To Seek Medical Care For Low Potassium
If you are having symptoms of low potassium, call your doctor. If you have muscle cramps, weakness, palpitations, or feel faint and you are taking a diuretic , contact your healthcare professional or go to an urgent care facility or hospital emergency department immediately.
Without symptoms, you will not know you have low potassium levels until you have a routine blood test or an electrocardiogram .
Symptoms Of Excess Potassium
Potassium Monitoring the level of potassium in the human body is imperative. Symptoms of low potassium is a mineral that must never be lacking in the daily diet, but equally, it must never be in excess. Excess potassium, also defined as hyper kalmia or hyperkalemia, is in fact harmful, especially in cases of diseases that affect the elderly, such as arterial hypertension and heart disease. Symptoms related to excess potassium in the blood are muscle cramps or weakness, sometimes tremors, pressure imbalances, fatigue and asthenia, tachycardia up to stopping heartbeat, shock and death.
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How To Raise Potassium Levels
In mild cases of hypokalemia, potassium levels can normalize within a few days after you start increasing potassium intake. Making sure you eat enough potassium-rich foods every day can help boost and maintain healthy potassium levels. The recommended daily potassium intake, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are:
- Healthy adults: 3,400 mg per day for men, 2,600 for women
- Teens ages 14 to 18 years old: 3,000 mg male, 2,300 mg female
- Children ages 9 to 13: 2,500 mg male, 2,300 mg female
- Children ages 4 to 8: 2,300 mg male, 2,300 mg female
- Children ages 1 to 3: 2,000 mg for both male and female
- Babies ages 7 to 12 months: 860 mg for both male and female
- Birth to 6 months: 400 mg for both male and female
What Is Potassium Used For: Symptoms Of Low Potassium
When you think about the nutrients your body needs, the first word that comes to mind is hardly potassium. Still, it should. Potassium concentrates in the cells and performs various functions: it helps nerves and muscles to communicate, transports other nutrients, keeps the kidneys functioning properly and prevents sodium from reaching too high peaks.
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Low Potassium Medical Treatment
Potassium replacement therapy will be directed by the type and severity of the patient’s symptoms. Treatment begins after lab tests confirm the diagnosis.
People suspected of having severely low potassium need to be placed on a cardiac monitor and have an IV started.
Usually, those with mild or moderately low potassium levels , who have no symptoms, or who have only minor complaints only need to be treated with potassium given in pill or liquid form. This is preferred because it is easy to administer, safe, inexpensive, and readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Some preparations, or too high of a dose, may irritate the stomach and cause vomiting.
If cardiac arrhythmias or significant symptoms are present or if the potassium level is less than 2.5 mEq/L, IV potassium should be given. In this situation, admission or observation in the emergency department is indicated. Replacing potassium takes several hours as it must be administered very slowly intravenously to avoid serious heart problems and avoid irritating the blood vessel where the IV is placed.
For those with severely low potassium and symptoms, both IV potassium and oral medication are necessary.
- When potassium is used with medications such as ACE inhibitors, there is a risk of developing a high level of potassium.
- Potassium-sparing diuretics and potassium-containing salt substitutes can also result in high potassium levels.
The Ideal Potassium Intake
Potassium recommendations vary depending on where you look. While there’s not one single set dosage, the Linus Pauling Institute suggests an adequate daily dose of potassium at 2,600 milligrams for women and 3,400 milligrams for men.
While there are a few ways to meet these metrics with your daily diet, the best way is to seek the nutrients in whole, natural foods. Some foods that are especially high in potassium include meats, dairy, leafy greens , fruit from vines , root vegetables , citrus fruits, and, as many people already know, bananas.
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Consuming these foods regularly will not just help you avoid tired legs symptoms according to MedLine Plus, it will help build proteins, breakdown and use carbohydrates, maintain normal body growth, and control your acid-base balance.
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Potassium Deficiency: Restoring Levels With Diet
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily intake of potassium is:
- 3,400 milligrams for adult males
- 2,600 mg for adult females
Potassium occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, nuts and whole grains. The body absorbs around 85 to 90% of the potassium in food sources.
Examples of foods rich in potassium include:
- dried apricots
Signs Of Potassium Deficiency
Potassium deficiency, caller hypernatremia, means that there’s too much sodium and/or water in your body and not enough potassium. Aside from helping to control the fluid levels in your cells, potassium also supports the electrical impulses that keep your nervous system and brain functioning and help your heartbeat stay steady and strong. Low potassium can be caused by taking antibiotics, diuretics or laxatives genetic conditions kidney disease not taking in enough magnesium or excess vomiting.
Symptoms of low potassium levels include constipation, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms and weakness, numbness and tingling.
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When To See A Healthcare Provider
Remember that most people do not develop symptoms until their potassium level is above 7.0 mEq/L. If you develop any of the symptoms above, especially across different body systems, you could have very high levels of potassium.
You are encouraged to be proactive and contact your healthcare provider for an evaluation. Most of the time hyperkalemia is found incidentally on blood work. In that case, your healthcare provider is likely to repeat your labs and follow-up with any necessary testing.
Hyperkalemia Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.
How To Treat Low Sodium
If you think your sodium levels are low, it’s best to get them checked by your health-care provider. This can be done with a simple blood test. If your sodium levels are in the low-normal range, your physician may suggest that you stop taking or change the dosage of certain medications such as anti-depressants, lithium or diuretics. Dietary changes can also help with hyponatremia. Reducing the number of water-rich foods such as celery and watermelon can help, as can adding authentic sea salt to your diet. If your sodium levels are very low, your health-care provider may treat you with an intravenous drip of saline.
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Symptoms Of Low Potassium
Without going into the complex labyrinths of physiology. It is essential to know that for the health of our cells and of the organism as a whole, we must introduce more potassium. The consequences are there for all to see: lets think for example of hypertension notoriously correlated with the consumption of foods rich in salt-and the less dangerous effects of water retention, such as cellulite, swelling and weight gain. By stimulating the kidneys to produce urine, potassium helps eliminate sodium, helps control blood pressure and purifies the body. Potassium is also a heart tonic: the right potassium values inside and outside the heart cells, susceptible to the concentrations of this mineral, oversee the heartbeats regularity.
Numbness In The Extremities
Numbness in the extremities is a sign of potassium deficiencies, too. As potassium levels drop, the muscles become sore, and the patient experiences numbness and tingling in their hands, fingers, feet, and toes. It is because the muscle cells arent getting the right amount of oxygen. Potassium regulates blood flow in the body, and the muscles can break down when the levels are too low. Blood wont flow to the muscles appropriately, and this is why some patents cannot move when the nutrient levels drop suddenly. Muscle constriction results from dangerously low potassium levels. Some patients experience atrophy because of low potassium levels, too.
Severe numbness and tingling require immediate medical treatment. Some symptoms of a potassium deficiency are also indicators of a heart attack. Patients who experience the numbness in their right arms or neck are advised to visit their doctor promptly. Ruling out a heart attack helps patients avoid more detrimental health crises, and it is better to go to the doctor and find out that its not a heart attack than to wait until it is too late.
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How Much Potassium Do I Need Every Day
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After the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlighted the underconsumption of potassium as a public health concern, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires food manufacturers to include potassium on their Nutrition Facts labels to make consumers more aware of its importance. The recommended Daily Value was also increased from 3,500 mg to 4,700 mg.
So how can you make sure you’re getting enough potassium? The good news is, it’s easy. Start displacing some of the processed, high-sodium foods in your diet with fruits and veggies potassium is readily available in most of them, and they’re naturally low in sodium. Not to mention, fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber and other vitamins and minerals. You don’t have to go completely plant-based, but adding another one to two servings of fruit or vegetables to your meals can make a difference over the course of a day.
Though bananas have a stellar reputation when it comes to potassium, plenty of other options are even richer in this mineral. As examples, one medium baked potato with skin contains 930 mg . One cup of cooked spinach contains 840 mg, and 1 cup of chopped carrots contains 410 mg.
Potassium can also be found in almost all the other food groups, such as dairy , grains , nuts, beans, meat, poultry and fish. Boiling, processing or canning foods can lower potassium levels, so fresh or frozen is usually a better option.
The Signals That Your Body Needs Potassium
Tiredness, cramps, abdominal bloating: some signs can be linked to a potassium deficiency and useful not to underestimate. Usually, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables should suffice to restore an adequate level of potassium. Eventually, it is possible to resort to the use of specific mineral salt supplements.
But what are the symptoms of a possible potassium deficiency?
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Is Low Potassium Dangerous
- Glucose intolerance with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Urinary calcium excretion
- Salt sensitivity
Very low potassium levels can cause more severe health conditions, such as heart rhythm problems, and can cause your heart to stop.
What Is Low Potassium
Potassium enters the body through diet and is one of the primary electrolytes , and is concentrated within the cells of the body. Only 2% of the body’s total potassium is available in the serum or bloodstream. Small changes in the serum levels of potassium can affect body function. One of the more important functions of potassium is to maintain the electrical activity of the cells in the body. Cells with high electrical activity are particularly affected when potassium levels fall.
- Normal serum potassium levels range from 3.5 to 5.0 mEq/liter in the blood.
- Normal daily intake of potassium is 70-100 mEq and requires the kidneys to remove that same amount each day.
- If more is removed, the body’s total potassium store will be decreased, and the result is hypokalemia occurs.
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Muscle Weakness And Fatigue
Your body needs potassium for proper nerve transmission and muscle contraction.
Muscle fatigue may be described as an overwhelming feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy. Your arms and legs simply feel weak.
That can make it hard to perform daily activities that previously werent difficult. You might also experience muscle soreness, cramping, or pain from minor physical exertion.
Theres no specific treatment for muscle fatigue, but you can do certain things to increase your energy levels when you have hyperkalemia.
How To Increase Your Potassium Levels
To correct a potassium deficiency, all you need to do is increase your dietary intake. The best potassium-rich foods to try include yams, bananas, clams, white beans, avocado, chicken, kiwis, oranges, pinto beans, and sweet potatoes.
If you do not feel that you are meeting the recommended daily amount of 4,700 milligrams, then potassium supplements are available at health food stores and pharmacies.
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Not Getting Enough Magnesium
Not getting enough Magnesium is actually VERY likely to be the most common cause of low potassium! The Signs of Low Potassium:
- Heart Palpitations
Are all the same as Signs of Magnesium Deficiency as well! So, many of the signs of potassium deficiency are actually signs of MAGNESIUM deficiency- and NOT actually caused from the potassium at all!
In fact, potassium and magnesium are SO closely linked that in some studies, they were actually able to give those with potassium deficiency a Normal Potassium Level by only giving MAGNESIUM. While that doesn’t seem to make any sense, on the Magnesium Facts page, you’ll see that magnesium is a ‘master nutrient’ that is responsible for the ability of many other nutrients to be absorbed as well.
Other studies have found that people with chronically low potassium levels were FINALLY able to maintain their potassium levels ONLYafter their magnesium was replaced!!
It might make you wonder why they didn’t replace the magnesium in the first place. Well, blood Magnesium Levels are completely inaccurate and miss almost 90% of magnesium deficiencies. Yet doctors rely on these tests completely in order to determine whether to give magnesium or not. So most magnesium deficiencies end up getting missed while those with potassium deficiency suffer and their issues often become ‘chronic’ problems.
What Causes Potassium Deficiency
Now that we’ve covered the symptoms of low potassium levels, you may be wondering what causes a deficiency in the first place.
High salt intake – Consuming too much salt often contributes to low potassium levels. If high concentrations of sodium flood into our body’s cells, water follows it and potassium levels become low in contrast to these other elements. Our kidneys then have to work harder to regain water and maintain the electrolyte balance.
Illness – A stomach bug or a bout of diarrhoea can also lead to potassium deficiency. Prolonged vomiting or diarrhoea upsets the fluid balance in the body and also means that the body struggles to retain essential electrolytes and nutrients.
Medication â Some medications can increase the risk of deficiency. This includes diuretics, steroids, a high dose of insulin and certain antifungals. Some of these can cause the kidneys to excrete excess potassium, thus leading to hypokalaemia.
Excess sweating – Potassium can also be lost through sweat and so some of the problems listed above may develop during exercise or when an individual is in a hot climate.
Diet – Finally, simply failing to get enough potassium through your diet may also lead to the kind of symptoms I’ve just discussed, such as muscle cramps and fatigue. A reliance on pre-packed, processed foods rather than fresh goods can increase the likelihood of deficiency.