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Hypokalemia in Pregnancy

By Amanda Knaebel ; Updated June 13, 2017

A diagnosis of hypokalemia means that your blood has lower levels of potassium than what it should have. Maintaining healthy potassium levels during pregnancy is particularly important since potassium helps your nerves and muscles function. Untreated hypokalemia can result in severe kidney problems or even death, so proper diagnosis and treatment is essential for you and your baby if you or your doctor suspects this problem during your pregnancy. The condition is usually easily treated with a proper diagnosis and care.


The symptoms of hypokalemia may be difficult to detect for pregnant women since many of them are common to pregnancy as well, even in women who do not have low levels of potassium. The most common symptoms are muscle weakness, fatigue, constipation and abnormal heart rhythms. While it is not unusual to feel tired or have some muscle pain or weakness during pregnancy, it's important to check with your doctor if you experience these symptoms to rule out low potassium, or hypokalemia.


Most people get enough potassium in their regular diets, but low levels can lead to hypokalemia. During pregnancy, the most common cause of hypokalemia is low potassium levels due to vomiting associated with morning sickness. Diuretics that cause increased urination can also lead to low potassium levels since potassium is filtered through the kidneys. Diarrhea and certain antibiotics, including gentamicin and carbenicillin, can also lead to hypokalemia.


In most cases, hypokalemia is easily treated with an oral potassium supplement. The supplements are available in tablet, capsule, liquid and powder forms to mix with water or in soft foods, such as applesauce. Some pregnant women prefer liquid or drinkable supplements to help with gagging and nausea from trying to swallow tablets. Dosage of potassium supplements varies depending on the individual's needs, and it is important to take the supplements exactly as directed by your doctor. Disclose any medications you take to your doctor before taking the supplements, as they can interact with several medications.


Pregnant women require more potassium than do other adults due to the increase in blood volume that occurs when carrying a baby. Pregnant women need 4,700 mg of potassium per day, and some women may need even more if they vomit frequently, which can cause a loss of potassium. Talk to your doctor about your potassium and nutrient needs and try to eat foods rich in potassium every day to prevent hypokalemia. Potatoes, yogurt, white beans and tomato products are excellent sources of potassium. Depending on your needs, your doctor may recommend a potassium supplement during your pregnancy to prevent hypokalemia.

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