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Potassium Deficiency (hypokalemia)

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Potassium deficiency, also called hypokalemia is when the person’s body does not get the required potassium needed from the diet or loses too much potassium or when the deficiency is due to vomiting or severe diarrhoea.

Potassium is a mineral that aids in the regulation of fluid in the body as well as the appropriate functioning of muscles and nerves. It is a nutrient that is found inside cells and is necessary for optimum health. Dr. Ravindra Gupta, in this article explains what potassium deficiency is, its causes, symptoms and how one can treat potassium deficiency.

Symptoms of potassium deficiency

Muscle weakness & cramps

Muscular cramps are uncontrollable muscle aches that occur suddenly. They can be painful and occur when blood potassium levels are low in the body. This stiffness and pain is associated with severe hypokalemia, but it can also occur with sudden onset of mild or moderate hypokalemia.

Potassium aids in the initiation and termination of muscular contractions. Low blood potassium levels can disrupt this balance, resulting in cramps, which are uncontrollable and persistent contractions.

Dizziness and weariness

For a variety of causes, weakness and weariness are frequently the initial indicators of potassium deficiency.

Potassium, for starters, aids in the regulation of muscular contractions. Your muscles perform weaker contractions when your blood potassium levels are low. Also, a mineral deficit can influence how your body absorbs nutrients, which can lead to weariness. Potassium deficiency might hinder your body’s ability to process nutrients like sugar, resulting in weariness.

Digestive problems

Digestive issues can be a result of several conditions, but it may occur due to potassium deficiency as well. The potassium in the body helps your digestive system to churn and propel food so as to digest it well in the stomach. But if the level of potassium is low in the digestive system it may weaken and slow the digestion and movement of the food thereby causing bloating, constipation and other digestive problems.

Breathing difficulties

A severe potassium deficit might make it difficult to breathe. Your lungs may not expand and contract properly if your blood potassium levels are severely low, resulting in shortness of breath and may even be fatal. Potassium deficiency can cause shortness of breath because it helps the lungs expand and contract.

Tingling and numbness

Though persistent tingling and numbness are more common in patients with high potassium levels, or hyperkalemia, those with potassium deficiency might also feel tingling and numbness. We all know how important potassium is for the body, it is required for normal functioning of the nervous system. Nerve signals can be weakened by low blood levels, resulting in tingling and numbness.

High blood pressure

Keeping a proper electrolyte balance is critical for maintaining a healthy blood pressure. You’re probably aware that too much sodium can raise blood pressure in certain people. Few people realise, however, that a lack of potassium in the diet might have the same impact. 

Potassium aids the kidneys in excreting excess salt through urine. The kidneys reabsorb sodium back into the bloodstream if there isn’t enough potassium in the blood, which can contribute to high blood pressure over time. 

This is most commonly associated with a low potassium intake in the diet, and more precisely, hypokalemia. Getting adequate potassium in your diet may thus be a solution for some people to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

It’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional about blood pressure monitoring and therapy if you have high blood pressure. Potassium is important for controlling sodium levels in the body. Your kidneys retain more sodium in the body when your potassium levels are low, which can lead to high blood pressure.

How to treat hypokalemia

  • Sources of potassium (with table of foods with potassium)
  • Diagnosis 
  • Treatment of potassium deficiency 
  • Summary

Causes of potassium deficiency

Potassium deficiency is not a common deficiency, below are some of the common causes that could have triggered the deficiency.

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome 
  • Eating disorders
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Certain medications
  • Malnourished
  • Kidney disorders
  • Overconsumption of licorice
  • Excessive sweating

Treatment

To treat hypokalemia, oral or IV supplementation is frequently required. While eating a potassium-rich diet is, it does not always restore potassium levels and that is why it is necessary to get the patient treated by a medical practitioner.

Oral potassium supplements are commonly used to treat mild to moderate hypokalemia. Your healthcare provider may also need to alter any other drugs or treat underlying problems such as diarrhoea, vomiting, or eating disorders in some circumstances.

Hypokalemia is frequently accompanied by a chloride shortage, so potassium chloride supplements should be used to address both deficiencies. Having said that, always follow your healthcare provider’s advice.

Source of potassium

Potassium is available in many foods. Below are some of the foods in which potassium can be easily found.

 Image showing food items rich in potassium

  • Beet greens
  • Fruits & starchy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Potatoes 
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots)
  • Winter squash
  • Broccoli
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt
  • Dry fruits- Cashews, Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Coconut water
  • Chicken 
  • Salmon

FAQs

Ques 1. What happens when your potassium is low?

When the potassium level is low in the body, there are certain common signs that your body starts to show like breathing difficulty, digestive issues, abnormal heart beating, severe loose motions etc.

Ques 2. What drink is high in potassium?

Drinks rich in citric acid are drinks that are high in potassium. Juices like orange juice, cherry juice, and watermelon juice are all good sources of potassium.

Ques 3. What is the most common cause of low potassium?

The most common cause of low potassium is frequent visits to the washroom, excessive urination throughout the day.

Ques 4. How can I raise my potassium quickly?

Food and drinks can help increase the potassium in your body. Bananas, potatoes, avocados, apricots, leafy greens, dried peas and beans are all that you can use to boost potassium intake.

Ques 5. How do you keep your potassium levels normal?

Keep yourself away from foods that are way too high in potassium and get a full body checkup every 6months to 1 year to know the content of vitamins and minerals in the body.

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