Hypokalemia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

If your body contains potassium levels less than the recommended levels, you may suffer from hypokalemia. Potassium will play an important role in carrying the electrical signals in the body through the cells. The nerves and muscles will work perfectly if there is sufficient potassium in the body. The recommended levels of potassium in the body are 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per litre. If the potassium levels are low (less than 2.5 mmol per litre), you will want to get the urgent medical attention.

Potassium is one of the important minerals in the body which will help you in performing various kinds of day-to-day activities. If there is a sufficient amount of potassium in the body, there will be smooth muscle movement. The cells will get the nutrients and the cells of the heart will be strengthened.  A person with normal potassium levels will maintain right blood pressure.

Symptoms of Hypokalemia:

  • You should be aware of the low potassium symptoms so that you will get medical attention immediately:
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • If you are suffering from heart disease, there will be abnormal heart rhythm. It is one of the common complications of a very low potassium level in the body.
  • The frequency of vomiting is high in people suffering from hypokalemia.
  • The frequency of bowel movements is high in people suffering from potassium-deficiency
  • The medication will reduce the frequency of pee
  • The failure of the kidneys or adrenal glands will take place due to insufficient potassium levels

If you are experiencing potassium deficiency symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately. The symptoms that you may experience include palpitations, muscle cramping, and constipation.

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Causes of Hypokalemia

  • There are many causes of low potassium levels in the body.
  • If you take prescription medication, there may be a loss of potassium through the urine.
  • People suffering from heart disease or high blood pressure will use water pills or diuretics which will lead to the loss of potassium
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea will lead to excessive potassium loss. The potassium loss will take place from the digestive tract.
  • If your body is not getting sufficient potassium from the diet, it will lead to potassium deficiency.
  • The other causes of potassium loss are mentioned below:
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive ketones in the blood
  • Diuretics
  • Excessive use of laxatives
  • Deficiency of folic acid
  • Antibiotics
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive alcohol consumption should be avoided
  • Some people will suffer from profuse sweating and it indicates the potassium deficiency
  • Asthma medications
  • Low magnesium levels
  • There are several syndromes associated with the low potassium levels in the body. The syndromes include Cushing’s syndrome, Gitelman syndrome, Liddle syndrome, Bartter syndrome and Fanconi syndrome.
  • The prevalence of hypokalemia is higher in women than in men.
  • Bartter syndrome is a very rare genetic kidney disorder in which potassium and salt deficiency will take place.
  • Gitelman syndrome is a kidney disorder which leads to an imbalance of ions in the body.
  • There will be an increase in blood pressure and hypokalemia due to Liddle syndrome.
  • If a person is exposed to cortisol steroid on a long-term basis, it will lead to Cushing syndrome.
  • Patients who had undergone the bowel surgery may suffer from Ileostomy. There will be a great amount of potassium in stools.
  • If a person is suffering from villous adenoma, there will be leakage of potassium from the colon.
  • Periodic paralysis is a rare situation in which the potassium will switch to cells from the serum. It will lead to sudden muscle weakness and paralysis. In most of the cases, arms and legs will be affected. However, it is very rear to affect the breathing and swallowing muscles.

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How Hypokalemia is Diagnosed?

Potassium is the primary electrolyte and it is present in the cells of the body. 2% of the potassium is available in the form of serum or blood. If there is a minor change in the blood level, there will be a great impact on the health. As the potassium will perform the electrical activity in the cell, you should figure out the cause that leads to potassium deficiency.

  • Low levels of potassium in the body will be diagnosed by conducting a blood test.
  • The doctor will go through your health history. Your health history with episodes of vomiting or diarrhoea will be assessed by the doctor.
  • If you are losing potassium during urination, it will be assessed by a urine test.
  • The doctor will check the blood pressure. The low potassium will affect your blood level in your body.
  • If you are suffering from arrhythmia, you will want to undergo an electrocardiogram (ECG). The test will help in testing your heartbeat. As hypokalemia and heart abnormalities are inter-linked, the ECG test will help in overcoming the condition.
  • The identification of potassium deficiency will take place during the routine blood and urine test. The tests are intended to check the vitamin levels in the blood.
  • If you are experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea for more than one or two days, you should consult the doctor immediately. You should take steps to prevent illness and loss of fluids.
  • If there is a short-term illness, the loss of potassium will be replaced by the body automatically. The potassium loss should be fixed and replaced in a systematic way.

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Prevention of Hypokalemia

  • If there is a sudden loss of fluids in the body, there will be various kinds of complications.
  • Weakness and fatigue are prominent and first signs of potassium deficiency. If there is a sufficient amount of potassium in the body, there will be regulation of muscle contractions in a very efficient manner.
  • Potassium deficiency will affect the use of nutrients in the body. It will result in fatigue.
  • The deficiency in potassium may impact the production of insulin so that there will be a great surge in blood glucose levels.
  • You can consume food items which are rich in potassium including beet greens, yams, white beans, clams, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas and pinto beans.
  • The long-term usage of laxatives should be avoided as it will lead to potassium deficiency
  • The potassium-rich food items include avocados, figs, bananas, milk, peas and beans, kiwi, oranges, and peanut butter.
  • If there is potassium deficiency in the body, there will be a great impact on cells and nerves. There will be high electrical activity in nerves and muscles of the heart. The potassium deficiency will have a great impact on the overall health.
  • The potassium will enter the body through the diet. Hence, you should take potassium-rich vegetables, fruits and juices.
  • The loss of potassium through the gastrointestinal tract and kidney should be avoided. There will be a loss of potassium through the GI tract through vomiting and diarrhoea.

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Treatment of Hypokalemia

  • The doctor will offer potassium supplements. The supplements can be taken by mouth. The supplements are prescribed after the diagnosis.
  • For some people, the potassium will be enhanced by offering an IV injection. If your potassium levels are very low, you will want to go for IV. In some patients, IV injection will be offered is there is no response through the use of tablets.
  • If the low potassium leads to abnormal heartbeats, the doctor will prescribe IV injections. The potassium intake can be delivered in a controlled manner by using IV injections.
  • If you are suffering from hypokalemia due to some other reason, your doctor will treat you by offering the most appropriate medication.
  • Some patients suffer from hypokalemia due to diuretics. As soon as they are removed, the condition will vanish.
  • A multi-step approach will be followed to treat low potassium deficiency in patients. The underlying cause should be identified and it should be addressed in the best possible way. The doctor may prescribe medication to stop vomiting or diarrhoea. In some cases, the doctor will change the medication as well.
  • By taking potassium supplements, the potassium deficiency can be addressed. However, the deficiency should not be addressed on an emergency basis as it will lead to various kinds of complications. Some side effects associated with the medication include abnormal heart rhythm.
  • If you are required to take potassium supplements, you should drink plenty of water. Some patients should take magnesium supplements as well to overcome the medical condition.
  • The treatment for hypokalemia is based on the patient-specific symptoms and underlying condition. The doctor will assess other medical issues and the most appropriate medication will be offered to the patient.
  • If a person suffers from gastroenteritis along with vomiting and diarrhoea, the symptoms will subside automatically after few days. In most of the cases, the potassium replacement supplements or IV fluids are not required.

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Complications of Hypokalemia

  • There will be the impact of hypokalemia on your kidneys. You will be thirsty and the frequency of urination will also increase.
  • If you are suffering from low levels of potassium, you may feel difficulty while exercising.
  • If there is a severe case of hypokalemia, it may lead to paralysis or respiratory failure.
  • If you suffer from an
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG), it will be treated as a severe issue and the doctor will choose the most appropriate way to resolve the condition.
  • Before you stop the medication, you should check your doctor.
  • Very few people meet the potassium requirements.
  • If potassium level is below 3.6mmol per litre, it is considered as low level. If the level is less than 2.5 mmol/L, there will be life-threatening symptoms such as paralysis, respiratory failure, the breakdown of muscle tissue and lazy bowel movements.
  • The abnormal heartbeat is witnessed in some patients who are under the medication.
  • Your body should not have high potassium levels. High potassium levels will also lead to various kinds of health complications.
  • If you are admitted to a hospital for low potassium treatment, the medical professionals will suggest a diet plan. After the discharge, the diet plan should be followed very carefully so that most of the complications can be avoided in a very efficient manner.
  • If potassium deficiency is addressed through IV fluids, it should be given very slowly. A quick inducement of potassium will lead to heart irritation. It can produce a dangerous heart rhythm such as ventricular tachycardia.

Myths Related to Hypokalemia

Myth #1: Potassium is not an important mineral in the body

Potassium deficiency will lead to various kinds of health complications in your body. It will help in the regulation of muscle contractions and will maintain healthy fluid balance in the body. The nerve function is very much enhanced by the presence of potassium.

Myth #2: Potassium enhancement cannot be achieved with food

You can enhance the potassium level in the body by taking potassium-rich food items such as nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables. However, over-the-counter medications are not suggested. You should consult your doctor before taking the supplements.

Myth #3: Mood swings are not associated with potassium deficiency

There will be a change in mood, fatigue, digestive issues, muscle aches and stiffness when you are suffering from potassium deficiency.

Myth #4: Hypokalemia cannot be treated

To treat hypokalemia, the underlying condition will be treated. It is possible to enhance the potassium levels in the body through the diet and food supplements.

Myth #5: Treatment for dehydration is not required

There will be the development of weakness and dehydration in people suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea. Hence, the electrolyte levels in the body will be tested to figure out the need for replacement of potassium losses.


If you find symptoms of low potassium levels in the body, you should seek medical attention on an urgent basis. In some cases, the existing medication should be changed if the medication leads to potassium loss. After the diagnosis, the doctor will prescribe you the prescribed drugs so that there will be a great recovery. The medication should not be started without consulting the physician.

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Last updated on : 24-12-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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