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Hypokalemia is a medical condition characterized by unusually low potassium levels and occurs most commonly in people who overuse diuretics or have kidney disease or an eating disorder 123. Low potassium levels arise when your blood levels of this nutrient dip below 3.5 milliequivalents per liter or mEq/L. Men and women who develop low potassium levels typically experience similar signs and symptoms. If you do not receive appropriate treatment to restore your potassium levels, you may be at risk of developing life-threatening medical complications.
Your body uses potassium to help regulate how much fluid your intestines absorb as digested food products pass through your body. When your potassium levels are low, your intestines absorb too much fluid. Insufficient fluid levels in your intestinal tract make it harder for digested food to pass through your digestive tract. Consequently, you may experience infrequent or difficult bowel movements that yield solid, small stools. Constipation may also contribute to stomach pain, abdominal cramping or bloating.
- Your body uses potassium to help regulate how much fluid your intestines absorb as digested food products pass through your body.
- When your potassium levels are low, your intestines absorb too much fluid.
Muscle Weakness or Fatigue
What Are the Dangers of High Potassium?
Potassium is also involved in controlling when your muscles contract. Without sufficient supplies of potassium, your muscles may not contract correctly when you attempt to engage them during physical activities. Poor muscle control may cause symptoms of muscle weakness or limpness, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center reports 3. You may also experience sporadic, uncomfortable muscle cramps, leg discomfort or fatigue. Consult your doctor as soon as possible if these symptoms persist or significantly interfere with your ability to move about normally.
- Potassium is also involved in controlling when your muscles contract.
- Without sufficient supplies of potassium, your muscles may not contract correctly when you attempt to engage them during physical activities.
Your heart is also a muscle and potassium helps control the rate at which your heart beats. If you have low potassium levels, you may develop an irregular heart rate as a symptom of this condition. Heart rate problems may occur more frequently in women who have both low potassium levels and heart disease, MedlinePlus reports 2. Seek emergency medical care if you experience severe or sudden chest pain, as this may be a sign of a heart attack.
- Your heart is also a muscle and potassium helps control the rate at which your heart beats.
- If you have low potassium levels, you may develop an irregular heart rate as a symptom of this condition.
What Are the Dangers of High Potassium?
Effects of Zinc With Potassium
Symptoms of Low Potassium of Electrolytes
Muscle Pain Due to Low Potassium
Side Effects of Magnesium Trisilicate
High Levels of B12 & Side Effects
Zinc Citrate Side Effects
Hand Tremors & Potassium
Side Effects of Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice
Side Effects of Milk of Magnesia
- MayoClinic.com: Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)
- MedlinePlus: Hypokalemia
- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: Hypokalemia
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- Cleveland Clinic. Hyperkalemia (high blood potassium). Updated October 19, 2016.
- Cleveland Clinic. Low potassium levels in your blood (hypokalemia). Updated March 12, 2018.
- Kardalas E, Paschou SA, Anagostis P, et al. Hypokalemia: a clinical update. Endocrine Connections. 2018;7(4):R135-R146. doi:10.1530/EC-18-0109
- Cleveland Clinic. Low potassium levels in your blood (hypokalemia): Management and treatment. Updated March 12, 2018.
- Bnaya A, Ruchlemer R, Itzkowitz E, Gabbay E, Shavit L. Pseudohyperkalemia in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. American Journal of Medicine. 2020;133(2):e52-e53. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.07.037
- Ben Salem C, Badreddine A, Fathallah N, Slim R, Hmouda H. Drug-induced hyperkalemia. Drug Safety. 2014. 37(9):677-92. doi:10.1007/s40264-014-0196-1
- Cleveland Clinic. How can hyperkalemia (high blood potassium levels) be treated? Updated October 19, 2016.
- Miller KC. Plasma potassium concentration and content changes after banana ingestion in exercised men. J Athl Train. 2012;47(6):648–654. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.6.05
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Potassium. Updated 12/13/19.
- Jameson JL, et. al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Edition. McGraw Hill Education. 2018.
- Kovesdy CP, Appel LJ, Grams ME, et al. Potassium homeostasis in health and disease: A scientific workshop cosponsored by the National Kidney Foundation and the American Society of Hypertension. Journal of the American Society of Hypertension. 2017;11(12):783-800. doi:10.1016/j.jash.2017.09.011
- Nilsson E, Gasparini A, Arnlov J, et al. Incidence and determinants of hyperkalemia and hypokalemia in a large healthcare system. International Journal of Cardiology. 2017;15;245:277-284. doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2017.07.035
- Pagana KD, Pagana TJ, Pagana TN. Mosby’s Diagnostic & Laboratory Test Reference. 14th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier; 2019.
- Schrier RW. Renal and Electrolyte Disorders, 8th Edition. LWW. 2017.
- Shrimanker I, Bhattarai S. Electrolytes. in: StatPearls. Updated January 20, 2020.
Rae Uddin has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She specializes in scientific journalism and medical and technical writing. Her work has appeared in various online publications. Uddin earned her Master of Science in integrated biomedical sciences with an emphasis in molecular and cellular biochemistry from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.