Symptoms Of Low Potassium

Symptoms Of Low Potassium

Hypokalemia (or hypokalemia) is the reduction of the concentration of potassium in the blood. This condition has various causes. But it generally depends on a deficiency in the body’s potassium stores or an abnormal displacement of the same within the intracellular compartment. Hypokalemia, the most common reason for low blood potassium, Is kidney disease, metabolic disorders, losses from the gastrointestinal tract. The uses of certain drugs (including diuretics and laxatives) and dialysis. In this article, we will give you a complete guide about the symptoms of low potassium.

Hypokalemia can be at the origin of arrhythmias, muscle weakness, hypotension, confusion, alkalosis (imbalance in the blood’s pH due to an excess of alkaline substances), and shallow breathing.

What Is The: Symptoms Of Low Potassium

Potassium: what it is and the main functions

  • Potassium is a fundamental mineral salt for our body. This element plays a role in maintaining the hydro-saline balance and is based on essential neuromuscular and cardiac functions.
  • In resting conditions, most potassium is found inside the cells (while sodium and calcium are concentrated mainly outside the cells ). The existence of a gradient (induced by its high intracellular concentration and its low extracellular concentration) is necessary for the excitability of nerve fibers, muscle, and heart cells. In other words, together with sodium and calcium, potassium maintains the cells’ electrical membrane potential, which is necessary for the conduction of nerve impulses and the contraction of muscles.
  • The intracellular potassium concentration is maintained using an active transport system (called the sodium-potassium pump).
  • Potassium is introduced into the body with food and, once absorbed in the intestine, passes into the blood; the kidneys intervene if necessary to increase the excretion or reabsorption of the mineral. Depending on the needs of organs and tissues, to maintain its levels within the normal range, the organism can resort to the reserves of the element located inside the cells.
  • The elimination of potassium occurs mainly in the urine, but a small amount can be disposed of in the feces.

Hypokalaemia: definition

Hypokalemia (or hypokalemia) is defined as a serum potassium concentration equal to or less than 3.5 mEq / l. This condition can result from a deficiency in the mineral’s total body deposits, secondary to a reduced dietary intake or excessive losses in urine or from the gastrointestinal tract. Another frequent cause of hypokalaemia is the abnormal displacement of potassium within the intracellular compartment.

It should be noted that hypokalaemia can be multifactorial; that is, the origin of this situation can depend on several mechanisms or etiologies, which co-occur.

The causes can be exogenous or endogenous. In any case, the alteration of potassium homeostasis is dangerous and requires immediate medical intervention.

Because it is measured

Potassium testing is indicated to check for any change in potassium. Potassium is also tested for symptoms of hypokalaemia (such as arrhythmias, muscle weakness, and tremors ). When doctors suspect acid-base or salt and water imbalance. The potassium test is performed at regular intervals in patients with hypertension and kidney problems. Who are on dialysis or are undergoing treatment with diuretic drugs as these two parameters are closely related to each other (as potassium levels increase, sodium levels decrease)—specific pathologies (in particular: heart failure, arterial hypertension, and kidney disease). Aso requires regular monitoring of kalaemia to identify any changes early.

Normal values

The level of potassium in the blood is generally between 3.5 and 5.0 mEq / L. This value is influenced by several factors: hormones, blood pH, dietary intake, kidney function, and circadian rhythm.

In the presence of serum potassium concentrations below 3.5 mEq / l, we speak of hypokalaemia (or hypokalaemia).

  • Mild hypokalaemia: potassium levels between 3.0 and 3.5 mEq / l;
  • Moderate hypokalaemia : 2.5 – 3.0 mEq / l;
  • Severe hypokalaemia : <2.5 mEq / l.
  • Values ​​higher than 5.0 mEq / l, on the other hand, indicate a situation of hyperkalemia ( hyperkalemia ).
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Low Potassium – Causes

The low potassium in the blood can be formed for increased renal elimination. This phenomenon can depend on numerous kidney diseases, both congenital and acquired, such as:

  • Renal tubular acidosis;
  • Pyelonephritis ;
  • Nephrotic syndrome ;
  • Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus ;
  • Fanconi syndrome (characterized by dysfunction of the proximal renal tubules, which causes excessive loss of potassium and other molecules through the urine);
  • Liddle’s syndrome (a rare inherited form of hypertension associated with decreased plasma levels of potassium, renin, and aldosterone );

Potassium loss can be caused by endocrine disorders associated with an excess of adrenal steroids, including:

  • Cushing’s syndrome ;
  • Primary and secondary hyperaldosteronism;
  • Conn syndrome ( adrenal gland disease characterized by excessive production of the hormone aldosterone);
  • Separating the rare tumor of renin.

Hypokalaemia can also occur when gastrointestinal losses of potassium occur, such as in:

  • Chronic diarrhea;
  • Vomiting ;
  • Ileostomia;
  • Villous adenoma of the colon;
  • Biliary or intestinal fistula;
  • Ulcerative colitis ;
  • Gastrointestinal tract neoplasms;

As for the diet, the following conditions can predispose to hypokalaemia:

  • Insufficient dietary intake of potassium (<1g / day);
  • Magnesium deficiency (reduced intake or increased loss);
  • Anorexia ;
  • Malabsorption syndromes ;
  • Ethylismo.

Another cause of low levels of potassium in the blood is the increase in the movement of the same element from the blood to the cells (transcellular passage). This can occur in the event of:

  • Glycogenesis during total parenteral nutrition or enteral hyperalimentation (which stimulates insulin secretion );
  • Insulin therapy ;
  • States of hyperinsulinemia ;
  • Thyroid overactivity ( hyperthyroidism );
  • Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (especially with β2-agonists that increase the cellular uptake of potassium);

The reduction of plasma potassium can also occur due to the ingestion of substances such as glycyrrhizin (present in licorice and used in the manufacture of chewing tobacco), dialysis, and the intake of certain drugs.

Medicines that most commonly cause hypokalaemia to include:

  • Diuretics, particularly potassium-dispersing ones;
  • Laxatives (especially when they are abused);
  • Amphotericin B;
  • High-dose penicillin ;
  • Theophylline (both acute and chronic intoxication);
  • ACTH and corticosteroids.
  • Possible associated symptoms

Mild hypokalemia is asymptomatic, while the moderate form typically results in:

  • Asthenia (tiredness) and easy fatigue;
  • Anorexia;
  • Weakness and muscle cramps ;
  • Feeling of heavy legs ;
  • Constipation and/or paralytic ileus.

A shortage of potassium in the blood can cause severe:

  • Polyuria ;
  • Rhabdomyolysis ;
  • Confusional state
  • Breathing difficulties ;
  • Tachycardia ;
  • Cardiac arrhythmias up to cardiocirculatory arrest;
  • Decreased osteotendinous reflexes up to (rare) ascending paralysis of the flaccid type.

Cardiac arrhythmias are common in hypokalaemia, especially in patients with pre-existing heart disease and/or on digitalis ( cardiotonic drug ) therapy.

How it is measured: Symptoms of low potassium levels in your body

For the potassium test, it is necessary to undergo a simple blood sample.


No special preparation rules are required before undergoing the potassium test. However, remember to tell the doctor what type of drug therapy you are following, as many medicines can affect the outcome of the analysis.

Interpretation of Results

Hypokalemia can have many causes; among the most frequent are renal tubular disorders, metabolic disorders, losses from the gastrointestinal tract, and dialysis. Drugs such as diuretics and laxatives must also be mentioned among the reasons for low potassium in the blood.

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Potassium deficiency

In reality, this fruit is not the food that contains the most, but what matters is that potassium (chemical symbol K) is one of the essential mineral salts for the health of your body. In fact, potassium helps to balance the sodium content – of which the primary source is table salt – in the body, allowing you to maintain normal blood pressure, to regulate diuresis and the functioning of muscles, including the heart. To keep potassium levels under control, follow a healthy and balanced diet.

Luckily, decompensation is rare, but you have to be careful, especially in summer. Suppose the symptoms of potassium deficiency or hypokalaemia to use medical terminology. Start to appear; you must immediately take action. Hypokalemia is a severe condition that requires medical attention.

Normal potassium values

If you want to know if your potassium values are under control, you need to have a blood sample.

Causes of low potassium

When you exercise for a long time, perhaps under the scorching sun, you sweat a lot and feel fatigued. Just excessive sweating is one of the most common causes of potassium deficiency. Since, in general, a substantial loss of fluids body (sweat precisely, but also urine and feces) takes away with it also the potassium, by decreasing levels in the blood.

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Other causes of potassium deficiency can be:

  • prolonged vomiting and diarrhea;
  • abuse of diuretic drugs;
  • abuse of laxatives;
  • high consumption of sodium (therefore salt)

The abuse of licorice can even cause a potassium deficiency. In fact, the root contains glycyrrhizin, a substance that lowers potassium levels in the blood.

Symptoms of potassium deficiency: Symptoms of low potassium

If the drop in potassium in your body is slight, you don’t need to worry. Aside from some sense of exhaustion, there are no particularly severe symptoms. The situation is different if the potassium deficiency is more significant. Here the symptoms can be:

  • nausea and vomit;
  • muscle weakness;
  • tremors;
  • palpitations

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In severe cases, heart arrhythmias lead to irregular heartbeats or even cardiac arrest.

What to eat in case of low potassium

The first thing you need to do in case of potassium deficiency is to bite into fresh fruit, one of the many that the summer season offers you: melon, peach, apricot, cherries. There is plenty of choices, and they are all excellent sources of potassium. Yes, among the foods that contain a higher amount of potassium, there are also bananas. There are about 1100 milligrams of potassium (more than half of the recommended daily requirement for adults, which is 2000 milligrams). Other potassium-rich foods include white beans, dried raisins, tomatoes, potatoes, and spinach.

Alternatively, you can drink hydro saline drinks – the ones that many athletes use. So to speak – which helps to restore the levels of potassium and also of magnesium and other mineral salts.

The signals that your body needs potassium

Tiredness, cramps, abdominal bloating: some signs can be linked to a potassium deficiency, and that it is useful not to underestimate. Usually, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables should suffice to restore an adequate level of potassium. Eventually, you can resort to the use of specific mineral salt supplements.

But what are the “Symptoms Of Low Potassium” o deficiency?


About 98% of the total potassium in our body is found inside cells, especially in muscle tissue: it is, therefore, essential for proper cellular functioning.

Fatigue is the first sign of how the cells are functioning “undertone.” Sometimes we feel exhausted for no apparent reason: we sleep regularly, and our physical activity is neither more demanding nor more intense than usual.

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Potassium is an excellent vasodilator. Its deficiency can therefore cause a rise in blood pressure.

Beware of the “potassium-eating” diet.

Crackers, chips, frozen foods: the salt contained in certain foods accelerate the elimination of potassium and thus helps to lower its level in the body. That is why it is always advisable to consume a limited amount of these foods.


When we perform physical activity, especially if it is intense, our muscles need more of the nutrients that arrive through the blood. Potassium, which is an excellent vasodilator, favors the flow of blood and, therefore, of nutrients. In the case of potassium deficiency, the muscles do not recharge adequately; they tend to count, and, thus, the chances of cramps can increase.

Cardiac arrhythmias

Potassium, as we have already said, acts on the contractions of the muscles and consequently also on the heart functions. Moderate to severe potassium deficiency can therefore cause arrhythmias or an abnormal heartbeat. Not really a sign of being underestimated, especially if you are already at risk of cardiovascular disease.


Speaking of a heartbeat: A sudden and excessive loss of potassium can slow your heartbeat so much that you feel like you’re about to pass out. However, arrhythmias and cardiac dysfunctions have several possible causes. So, if the phenomenon occurs, it is good to contact your doctor immediately.


Low potassium also means reduced functionality for the abdominal muscles, intestines, and stomach, which can cause abdominal cramps bloating, constipation.


The functionality of the nerves also depends on an adequate concentration of potassium in the blood. In case of deficiency, an annoying sensation of numbness may be felt, accompanied by tingling and tingling, with less sensitivity of a part of the body.


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